Feb 10, 2009

Obesity: contagious and incurable

by Tim Mattingly

Obesity is a viral epidemic — Dr. Nik Dhurandhar can prove it. Ten years and countless hours in the Pennington Biomedical Research Center support it. America, meet adenovirus-36 (Ad-36), an infectious viral strand linked to obesity.

Ad-36 is highly contagious and spreads like the common cold. Something as simple as a sneeze can cause the obesity-enabling virus to spread from one individual to the next, according to a Fox News report.

To shift the science into perspective, an average of 300,000 people suffer “premature” deaths due to complications from obesity, according to the Surgeon General.

“We're not saying that a virus is the only cause of obesity, but this study provides stronger evidence that some obesity cases may involve viral infections,” Dhurandhar’s colleague, Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, said in a WebMD article.

Currently, there is no cure for Ad-36 but Dhurandhar and his colleagues are in the process of developing a vaccine for the virus. The hope is that one day, through research, science and medicine will be able to “block the virus at the point of infection.”

There are no outward signs or symptoms associated with Ad-36, Dhurandhar said. Just because an individual is overweight does not mean he or she is a carrier of the virus.

“Obese people are not necessarily more likely to be infected than skinny people,” Dhurandhar explained in an e-mail correspondence. “In fact, we have found that in animals the virus does its damage and then leaves.”

Scientific studies suggest Ad-36 has already infected 30 percent of obese Americans, according to an Agrosystems Research team’s medical abstract, citing Dhurandhar’s research on PubMed. Although less prevalent, the virus is also thought to infect 11 percent of America’s non-obese population, reports the same abstract.

“Everyone needs to keep in mind that while Ad-36 may be responsible for some obesity (along with several other causes of obesity),” Dhurandhar said. “The treatment today is, unfortunately, the conventional one: diet and exercise, and in rare cases drugs or surgery.”

Once a body is infected, Ad-36 “demonstrates an amazing ability” to attach itself to stem cells, says Dhurandhar. The virus then acts like a biological chain-reaction, resulting in an infected individual becoming more prone to obesity.

“The best way to avoid infection by any such virus is to practice good personal hygiene, such as hand-washing,” said Dhurandhar.

“Ad-36 may be a contributing factor to the worldwide rising problem of obesity,” postulated the Agrosystems Research team said in its PubMed abstract.

Until a vaccine is discovered for Ad-36, individuals can follow Dhurandhar’s practical advice to safeguard themselves against a possible viral infection. In the meantime, both concerned and curious scientists search for answers to the virus.

Contact Tim Mattingly at


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