Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, of the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, has been carrying out animal and human studies on the virus named Adenovirus-36.
“When this virus goes to the fat tissue it replicates making more copies of itself and in the process increases the number of fat cells, which may explain why people get fat when infected with this virus,” says Dr. Dhurandhar.
Dr. Dhurandhar’s team examined blood samples from people at an obesity clinic. They tested the samples for antibodies to Adenovirus-36 and found that 20 percent of the patients had encountered the virus at some point and were significantly heavier than their antibody negative counterparts.
In another study, obese people were nearly three times more likely to have the virus than people at a healthy weight. And among the non-obese group, those with the virus were heavier than average.
But this isn’t a sci-fi movie scenario. The obese of the world aren’t walking zombies, infected by a fat virus. “It’s very important to know that it’s not the reason why we’re seeing a major epidemic of obesity,” says Dr. Carel Le Roux, an obesity expert at Imperial College in London.
“It may be a small contributing factor and we need to explore all the avenues because so many people need help and we’re just not clever enough to help them at the moment.”