Quan le Dan
I watched his last breath leave the body. He was in his twenties and would be forever now.
After all resuscitation efforts failed, I finally wiped the fluids and phlegm from his face. I no longer saw pain and suffering, only peace. He fought hard, and so did we.
It wasn’t until I got to the front lines against Covid-19 that I realized how devastating a war can be. Here at Binh Duong Hospital, many of the deceased were neither old nor sick; they were young people with a future. A common denominator was that many were overweight or obese.
Vietnamese society lovingly regards chubby and plump people, seeing them as warm and kind. But the coronavirus is not so nice to them. They can go from a simple cough very quickly to needing oxygen tanks and ventilators to stay alive. Some only last a few days.
Caring for overweight people is more difficult and requires more resources.
Simple hygiene tasks like turning them over to change their diapers often take more people. Finding their veins for injections is almost impossible. They have difficulty breathing and cannot lie on their stomachs. Importantly, some of their bodily reactions to Covid-19, especially cytokine storms, can be particularly dangerous and even fatal.
It is a known fact that obesity and death rates from Covid are closely linked. Statistics show that of the 2.5 people who died from the disease, 2.2 million were in countries with a high percentage of overweight people.
Around 80% of Covid patients in intensive care units in the UK are overweight or obese, The Guardian newspaper reports.
In the United States, this rate is 88%.
Vietnam had one of the lowest death rates in the world last year, possibly because epidemics had yet to hit the most vulnerable populations. But when the fourth wave swept through key economic regions of southern Vietnam, which have the highest rate of overweight people in the country, death rates immediately jumped to 2.5 percent, or 0.4 percentage points. more than the world average.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the death rate could even reach 4%.
As the world learns more about the pandemic, how the virus is killing people is also better understood.
Cytokine storms could be attributed to a large number of deaths, caused by the body’s drastic response to coronavirus infection.
While about 80 percent of cases present with mild symptoms, the remaining 20 percent suffer from severe symptoms and must be hospitalized or even die.
So what makes overweight people so vulnerable to Covid-19?
A man crosses a road as pedestrians carrying food walk along the trail in central Sydney, Australia. Photo by Reuters / David Gray
Studies have shown that overweight and obese people often suffer from metabolic disorders that disrupt the immune system. For decades, scientists have understood that fatty tissue is not only batteries, but also a major endocrine organ.
In the 1990s, science discovered that fatty tissue releases several chemicals, including cytokines, which are responsible for so-called cytokine storms.
Normally, cytokines are released in appropriate amounts, which aids in cell signaling and other functions. But in the face of certain diseases, adipose tissue could release huge amounts of cytokines, which overwhelm the body and trigger cascades of chemical reactions that destroy it.
All the evidence points to one fact: Obesity is correlated with a higher risk of dying from Covid.
This leads to a new public health problem that must be addressed. There must be a healthcare campaign that promotes healthier lifestyles and reduces obesity, especially among young people.
In the meantime, I think overweight people should be given priority for the Covid vaccination.
* Quan The Dan is a doctor at Becamex Binh Duong ICU Field Hospital. The opinions expressed are his own.