All over the world, concerns are rising over the spread of the deadly novel Coronavirus. WHO estimated that the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions were particularly vulnerable, but new research has found another group may be at increased risk too - men.
The New York Times reported that findings from the latest and largest analysis of coronavirus from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the death rate is higher in men than women.
The findings reveal that while an approximately equal number of men and women are infected, the death rate for men was 2.8 per cent while for women it was 1.7.
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The same was found to happen during both the SARS and MERS outbreaks, both of which are also part of the same family as CONVID-19 - novel coronavirus’ official name.
Men and women have different biologies and socialisations. For example, Dr Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex differences in viral infections and vaccination responses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said that while the WHO has been tirelessly emphasising the importance of good hygiene and washing hands often to protect against the virus, several studies found that men (even health workers) washed less often than women!
All this points to the fact that women have better immune systems. But so far, scientists have not been able to figure out why.
It’s All Biology!
One biological reason for this could be for evolutionary reasons - to give their children a survival advantage. Another could be the presence of the female sex hormone estrogen or the fact that women have two X chromosomes which are known to contain immune-related genes.
Experiments conducted on mice who were exposed to SARS found that the males were more likely to develop an infection. Dr Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology at the University of Iowa and senior author of the study said that male mice developed SARS at lower viral exposures, had reduced immune responses, had more lung damage and were slower to recover too.
They found that blocking estrogen or removing the ovaries in infected female mice made them more likely to die. This could mean that estrogen has a crucial role in immunity-boosting.
Cultural Reasons & Why Sex-Specific Research is Important
While biology plays a huge role in determining health conditions so does the cultural structure of a society. For example, China has the largest population of smokers in the world and men make up 98% of this.
According to NYT, Chinese men also have high levels of blood pressure and higher rates of Type 2 diabetes than women.
These could also lead to lower levels of general immunity among men.
Age is also another factor to keep in mind. Even in the experiment on mice with SARS, the differences between male and female mice was exacerbated with age.
A study with 4,021 patients with CONVID-19 highlighted the need for early detection in older men especially.
All of these reveal that more sex-specific data is required to help the general public best protect themselves.
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