Parts of the Coronavirus



Reviewed 5.28.2020

Pennington Keeps You Informed

As part of Pennington’s response to the global pandemic, this COVID-19 Resource Center has been created for you to stay informed about the Center’s reaction and operations during this unprecedented time.

Use the links at the top of each page to find:

  • Coronavirus - information about the prevention and spread of COVID-19
  • Participants - updates for study participants in ongoing clinical trials
  • Employees - revised policies and resources for faculty and staff
  • Research - the latest research in the relationship of COVID-19 and obesity

Please note that the information on these pages, including external links, is being updated often.

News, Updates & Resources

Featured News Story

What We’ve Learned about How the COVID19 Pandemic has Affected us All

May 27th, 2020

A survey of 7,750 people from across the globe reveals the significant health behavior changes that have been triggered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the results here...

Why are those with Obesity at Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19 Infection and Death?
Top 5 FAQs:

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – The experts at Pennington Biomedical Research Center explain why and how obesity affects COVID-19 in this FAQ. “Thank you”, for these responses goes to Steven Heymsfield, MD, FTOS, former Executive Director of the Center; Eric Ravussin, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Executive Director of Clinical Science, and Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, FACSM, FTOS, Associate Executive Director for Population and Public Health Sciences.

1) Why are those with obesity more at risk for a severe case of COVID-19?

Inflammation that often accompanies obesity can cause the body to rev up the immune system response to any infection such as COVID-19.

Under normal circumstances, inflammation indicates that the immune system is fighting off infection by sending blood cells and other messengers to the injury. Once those cells show up to the injured tissue, you’ll notice swelling and you may see a reddish or “inflamed” color. Once the wound heals, the immune system backs off, swelling goes down and color returns to normal.

In people with obesity, the immune system may see fat that surrounds organs in the abdomen, also known as visceral fat, as a threat like a potential injury. So, the immune system is working overtime sending out blood cells and other chemicals every day, all day long, to attack damaged cells. This leads to chronic inflammation.

In the case of COVID-19, the immune system goes into even higher overdrive in a way that can cause a “cytokine storm” reaction. Cytokine molecules are part of a healthy immune system response, except when the number of molecules soars. Then immune cells may build so quickly that they crowd and break through the walls of an inflamed lung, as just one result. That’s when fluids will build up in the lung, making it hard to breathe and triggering the need for ventilator support.

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. adults have obesity, which helps explain why COVID-19 is having such a big impact on our healthcare system.

2) Is inflammation the only reason COVID-19 is more dangerous to people with Obesity?

No. It gets worse. Impaired immune systems make an individual more susceptible to viral infections in general. One study shows that adults with obesity have twice the incidence of flu or flu-like illnesses despite being vaccinated.

Obesity is also often accompanied by other conditions that are risk factors for COVID-19 complications, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and pulmonary disease like obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity is also often accompanied by other conditions that are risk factors for COVID-19 complications, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and pulmonary disease like obstructive sleep apnea.

3) What level of BMI puts you at most risk?

Those with severe or class III obesity which is defined as a BMI of 40 or higher. A person who is 5’9” and weighs 271 pounds has a BMI of 40. A person with severe obesity who requires hospitalization presents a greater challenge. He or she may need a special, bariatric hospital bed. Even hospitals with bariatric surgery units have a limited number of these beds. Other hospitals may not have any.

People with obesity and COVID-19 are more likely to need a ventilator. But intubations may be more difficult and require personnel with specialized training. Hospitals have been able to reduce mortality rates for some patients who need ventilators by placing the patients on their stomachs. This option may not be available for people with class III obesity because they, like pregnant women, may not do well in that position.

Obtaining an imaging diagnosis may also be more complicated because many imaging machines have weight limits.

4) How does obesity affect my respiratory system?

A person with obesity carries excess chest and abdominal fat, and that extra weight puts pressure on their diaphragm, lungs, and chest cavity. This can lead to breathing problems and even lung damage. In simpler terms, a person with obesity can’t get enough oxygen. He or she can’t catch a (full) breath.

It’s also possible that the extra weight may damage the diaphragm muscles. The respiratory system of a person with obesity is already laboring at a disadvantage before the added distress of a COVID-19 infection. With the infection, their blood oxygen levels could drop to near-fatal levels or fatal levels without them knowing.

5) How should I prepare for coronavirus if I have obesity?

Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even at home. Stay at least 6 feet away from other people outside your home. Avoid crowds and large gatherings.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces – tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, etc. – every day.
  • Exercise. Change your diet. Lifestyle changes, like a daily workout routine or a better diet, can help you stay healthy. Check out Pennington Biomedical’s YouTube page or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for quick tips on exercise and eating healthy.

Helpful Resources

'Obesity should not be dismissed': Excess weight drives inflammation, hypoventilation behind COVID-19 complications
Ibuprofen and COVID-19 symptoms: Here's what you need to know
FDA-approved drugs could help fight COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracking
Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana COVID-19 Resources
Louisiana Department of Health - Defend Against COVID-19
What is Immunity Against the Virus and How Can I Become Immune?
See how a sneeze can launch germs much farther than 6 feet
Social Distancing Tool Referenced by Governor Edwards - Louisiana Grade C
Defending Against COVID-19 Cyber Scams
CDC Coronavirus Information
Louisiana Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline 1-855-523-2652, 8 – 4:30 M-F
World Health Organization
LSU Coronavirus Updates & Information
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
How Healthcare Workers Wash Their Hands
Jefferson University Hospital's Wash 'Em - Hand Hygiene Music Video
EPA List of Antimicrobial Products
Louisiana Governor’s Office Coronavirus Information

Preventing the Spread of COVID-19

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a comprehensive list of COVID-19 preventative behaviors we encourage you to review. A vaccine is not currently available for COVID-19 and everyday prevention measures are the most important steps we can take to safeguard everyone’s health.

We are asking you to make practicing appropriate hand hygiene a priority by:

  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap* and water at frequent intervals throughout the day
WHO How to wash hands

(*For the eye-opening science behind how and why everyday soap works so well against SARS-Co2, check @pallithoradarson, supramolecular chemistry expert on Twitter).

Additional Recommended Steps You Can Take

  • Covering your coughs
  • Limiting close contact with others
  • Disinfecting shared common objects
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid touching other people or attending unnecessary social interactions and travel
  • Staying home if you suspect you are sick

Social Distancing Reduces Your Risk and Stops the Spread

One of the best ways to stay healthy and reduce the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is called "social distancing."

If COVID-19 is spreading in your area, limiting close contact with all individuals outside your household will help reduce the spread in your community as well.

Since people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, it is important to stay away from others when possible, even if you have no symptoms.

To Practice Social Distancing

  • Stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people
  • Do not gather in groups
  • Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings

Why is social distancing so effective?

There is no vaccine for COVID-19, so the best way to stay healthy is to prevent the spread of the disease through other measures.

COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period. An infected person will cough, sneeze or talk and droplets from the mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs.

The less exposure you have to infected individuals’ droplets, the less viral “load” your body’s immune system has to fight to keep you healthy.

For more on social distancing, including tips on how to visit the grocery store safely, and why to wear a mask in public, see the CDC website source here:

Why You Should Think First Before Making Your Own Hand Sanitizer

So the hand sanitizer you need can’t be found at the store? Many sites on the Internet will tell you how you can make your own, by mixing common ingredients and even customizing with essential oils. But that great idea isn’t actually so great. Here’s why:

  • You don’t have a sterile production site site at your house, and that can lead to bacterial contamination.
  • If you start with 70% isopropyl alcohol instead of 91 or 99%, then the final alcohol concentration drops below the recommended 60%.
  • Mixing the ingredients is harder than it looks, and you won’t end up with the nice gel that is purchased in stores.
  • The essential oils can cause an allergic reaction.
  • You have no way to measure the final alcohol concentration at home.
  • If the concentration of aloe vera is too low, it can dry out your skin.

Most importantly, washing with soap and water is always better than using a hand sanitizer, which should only be used when soap and water are not available.

Sources: CDC, CNN and NY Times

Wearing a Mask

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that everyone wear a mask in public. This will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and keep you healthier.

People with the virus, and even those without any symptoms or idea that they might be sick, can spread the virus. If they are wearing a mask, they are less likely to spread the virus to healthy individuals. Based on previous virus research with animals and humans, we also know that viral dose exposure affects the severity of an illness. A lower viral dose exposure gives the immune system a better chance of winning against the disease. Masks can help reduce your viral dose exposure to infected air droplets.

Read more about viral load exposure and why it is so important in this recent New York Times editorial.

The CDC has also provided a “DIY Mask Tutorial” video here.

Masks vs. Respirators

Mask Respirator
Purpose Surgery masks protect other people against infection from the person wearing the surgical mask by trapping large particles of body fluids that may contain bacteria or viruses expelled by the wearer. Also, to a smaller extent, protects the user by providing a physical barrier against hazards, such as splashes of large droplets of blood or body fluids. Dust masks filter out dust and mild irritants. Designed to reduce a worker's exposure to airborne contaminants.
Fit Loose-fitting; there will be gaps between the mask and the face. Provide a tight seal; forces inhaled air to be pulled through the respirator’s filter material. Fit-testing is required before use.
Certification Cleared by the FDA. Evaluated, tested and approved by NIOSH and will have the word NIOSH printed on the product.
Filtration Does not provide wearer from protection against smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection. Filters 95-99% of aerosols (an N95 will filter 95% of particulates, an N99 filters 99%).
Limitations Disposable. Designed to be used for one patient and then discarded. Disposable. Designed to be discarded after each patient encounter or if it becomes damaged or contaminated.


COVID-19 and Your Pets

The current consensus among authoritative organizations and experts in the field is that there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19. The CDC, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the World Health Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health all issued similar statements on the subject. The AVMA statement explains, “Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch.”

COVID-19 Testing in Pets

  • IDEXX, a veterinary testing service, has evaluated thousands of dog and cat samples while validating its new veterinary test system for COVID-19 and did not find any positive results.
  • While two dogs in China have tested positive for the virus, both in homes with an infected person, neither dogs showed any signs of illness, nor did the other animals in the house test positive. It is believed the virus was found on the dogs just as it was found in the home environment.

Dos and Dont's

  • Don’t put a mask on your dog. There is no evidence that it helps and masks may even impair the dog’s breathing.
  • Do continue to take your dogs for walks. Exercise is beneficial for both you and your pet, both mentally and physically. Don’t walk in crowded areas and do keep 6 feet between you and other people.
  • Do continue to practice proper handwashing and distancing procedures.
  • Don’t abandon your pet at a shelter over fear of COVID-19.