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Catching Obesity: Identifying Viruses That May Make Us Fat

Do human adenoviruses cause obesity? Is a vaccine possible?Researcher advises: ‘Eat right, exercise, wash your hands’

BETHESDA, Md. (Jan. 30, 2006) – There is a lot of good advice to help us avoid becoming obese, such as “Eat less,” and “Exercise.” But here’s a new and surprising piece of advice based on a promising area of obesity research: “Wash your hands.”

There is accumulating evidence that certain viruses may cause obesity, in essence making obesity contagious, according to Leah D. Whigham, the lead researcher in a new study, “Adipogenic potential of multiple human adenoviruses in vivo and in vitro in animals,” in the January issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology published by the American Physiological Society.

The study, by Whigham, Barbara A. Israel and Richard L. Atkinson, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that the human adenovirus Ad-37 causes obesity in chickens. This finding builds on studies that two related viruses, Ad-36 and Ad-5, also cause obesity in animals.

Moreover, Ad-36 has been associated with human obesity, leading researchers to suspect that Ad-37 also may be implicated in human obesity. Whigham said more research is needed to find out if Ad-37 causes obesity in humans. One study was inconclusive, because only a handful of people showed evidence of infection with Ad-37 – not enough people to draw any conclusions, she said. Ad-37, Ad-36 and Ad-5 are part of a family of approximately 50 viruses known as human adenoviruses.

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