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Published: Wednesday, 5/20/2009

Study of hospitalized patients suggests swine flu link to obesity


WASHINGTON - A survey of people hospitalized because of swine flu in California has raised the possibility that obesity is as much of a risk factor for serious complications from flu as diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy.

In all, about two-thirds of the California patients had some underlying medical condition, according to a report yesterday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We were surprised by the frequency of obesity among the severe cases that we've been tracking," said Anne Schuchat, a CDC epidemiologist.

She said "we're looking into" the possibility that obese people should be at the head of the line along with other high-risk groups if a vaccine becomes available.

Other studies have shown that pregnant women are at higher risk, especially in the third trimester when the fetus and womb compress the lower regions of the lungs. This makes it harder to breathe deeply and cough forcefully; it may also alter blood flow in the chest. A similar thing may occur in severely overweight people, some experts speculated.

Nationwide, 48 states have reported 5,469 cases and six U.S. deaths since late April.

Yesterday, officials in Missouri reported the death of a 44-year-old man with swine flu who had no underlying medical problems.

Also yesterday, the New York City Health Department said it was investigating the death of a 16-month-old boy as a possible swine flu case. Elmhurst Hospital Center officials in Queens said he had a high fever when he was brought in.

Also yesterday, the World Health Organization announced that drug manufacturers won't start making a swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest, weeks later than previous predictions.

The disclosure that making a swine flu vaccine is proving more difficult than experts first thought came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan met with pharmaceutical company representatives.

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