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Study: Obesity limits effectiveness of flu vaccines
Date:10/25/2011

People carrying extra pounds may need extra protection from influenza.

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that obesity may make annual flu shots less effective.

The findings, published online Oct. 25, 2011, in he International Journal of Obesity, provide evidence explaining a phenomenon that was noticed for the first time during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak: that obesity is associated with an impaired immune response to the influenza vaccination in humans.

"These results suggest that overweight and obese people would be more likely than healthy weight people to experience flu illness following exposure to the flu virus," said Melinda Beck, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and senior author of the study.

"Previous studies have indicated the possibility that obesity might impair the human body's ability to fight flu viruses. These new findings seem to give us a reason why obese people were more susceptible to influenza illness during the H1N1 pandemic compared to healthy weight people."

The study reports for the first time that influenza vaccine antibody levels decline significantly in obese people compared to healthy weight individuals. What's more, responses of CD8+ T cells (a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the body's immune system) are defective in heavier people.

Researchers studied people at a UNC clinic who had been vaccinated in late 2009 with inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine, the common flu vaccine for that fall and winter season. Although obese, overweight and healthy weight individuals all developed antibodies to flu viruses within the first month after vaccination, the antibody levels in the blood declined more rapidly in obese and overweight individuals over time.

About 50 percent of obese participants had a four-fold decrease in antibody levels at 11
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Contact: Ramona Dubose
ramona_dubose@unc.edu
919-966-7467
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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