Evidence-Based Reviews

Anorexia nervosa and COVID-19

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Obstacles to detecting infections

Several factors can complicate the surveillance and detection of infections in patients with eating disorders, especially those with AN. These include:

  • an accepted predisposition to infection secondary to malnutrition
  • a lack of visual or reported infectious symptoms
  • misrepresentation and assumptions from published research.

Clinicians who report fewer observed cases of infections among patients with AN may be overlooking comorbid disease processes due to a bias from the literature and/or a lack of awareness of symptom parameters in patients with AN.

Features of AN include a loss of adipose tissue responsible for pro-inflammatory cytokines, and excessive exercise, which stimulates anti-inflammatory myokines. This can modulate the experience of illness that impacts the core features of disease,17 possibly reducing symptomatic presentation of infections.

Fever. The presence and intensity of fever may be altered in patients with eating disorders, especially those with AN. In a study of 311 inpatients with AN, researchers found that patients with AN had a significant delay in fever response in AN.12 Of 23 patients with an active bacterial infection, all but 5 had a fever <37°C, with some as low as 35.5°C. A detectable fever response and unexplained fevers were found in 2 of the 6 patients with a viral infection. A series of case studies found that patients with AN with bacterial infections also had a delayed fever response.18

For patients with infections that commonly present with fever, such as COVID-19, a delayed fever response can delay or evade the detection of infection, thus increasing potential complications as well viral exposure to others. Thus, clinicians should use caution when ruling out COVID-19 or other infections because of a lack of significant fever.

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