Scientists involved in a new study published this month in the research journal, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, have sounded the alarm over their ability to contain future flu pandemics in relation to the rise of obesity especially in the West today.
The study finds that growth rates in obesity and diabetes, along with populations which are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, could turn even a mild flu outbreak into an explosive global pandemic.
One of the authors of the study, Dr Kirsty Short, virologist at the University of Queensland, told The Telegraph of the link between obesity and spread of dangerous diseases: “There’s been an incredible rate of increase of diabetes and obesity even in my lifetime.” She explained: “This has significant implications on infectious diseases and the spread of infectious disease.”
Dr. Short continued, "But because chronic diseases have risen in frequency in such a short period of time, we’re only starting to appreciate all of the consequences."
Reflecting on the now century old Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, which infected a third of the global population and is estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 million people, she said of the next big outbreak, “we know that there will be one”.
“As our population is ageing and chronic diseases are becoming so prevalent, that could turn even a mild pandemic into a chronic one,” Dr. Short concluded.
Though modern medicine and vaccines are better prepared to mitigate the impact of a major outbreak than in 1918, issues like obesity and diabetes more broadly present in society will likely provide a significant hindrance to prevention and treatment, scientists fear, as these conditions could alter the body's immune response, leading to greater rates of hospitalization and even death.
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Disturbingly, scientists have predicted that if something on the scale of the Spanish flu were to occur today, it could result in a death toll as high as 147 million people worldwide, according to estimates.
Commenting on the widely observable fact that flu vaccines often fail each year - a trend that seems to be worsening, another author of the new study noted: “There is a lot to be concerned about,” said Dr van de Sandt commenting on the most recent study.
“We know more, but there’s still a lot to look into - and we still don’t have a vaccine to protect against all the strains of influenza. Developing one is the next big step, but we’re not even close at the moment to getting a vaccine onto the market,” Dr van de Sandt explained.
Meanwhile, nearly all recent studies of American obesity suggest the trend of increasingly overweight Americans will only continue, with one "Fat Forecast" from a half-decade ago predicting that a whopping 42% of Americans will be obese by 2030.