CORONAVIRUS: MEN VS. WOMEN
As we learn more and more about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, we encounter new information on what seems like a daily basis. As with any new virus or epidemic, we are overloaded with articles, studies, conspiracy theories, and blog posts at every corner of the internet, and real life. One aspect that doesn’t seem to be discussed as often, is the possible difference between men and women, and how COVID-19 may effect each sex differently, or if it does. With many viruses and illnesses, there is usually slight (sometimes major) differences of symptoms where men and women are concerned. Not to mention, long term side effects. The longest term side effect of course, being death.
Something we have learned, through various studies and research data, is that more men are documented as dying from COVID-19, when compared to women. In a large sample study in China, 70 percent of infected patients who passed away due to coronavirus were men. And again, in another study, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that 63 percent of COVID-19 related deaths were men. New York City also came out with some statistics showing that men were dying at twice the rate of women, according to the city’s health department. Interestingly, men and women are contracting the virus at the same rates, but again, the contrast in coronavirus deaths are notable.
Now, when discussing dissimilarities between the sexes, there are obviously biological differences to account for, but societal and behavioral disparities should not be ignored. Some experts account for the difference in coronavirus related fatality rates to be due to the hypothesis that men tend to engage in riskier behavior when compared to their female counterparts. For example, claims that men are more likely to ignore social distancing guidelines, like wearing a mask, hand washing or the famous six foot rule. Another claim is that men are less likely to take symptoms of coronavirus seriously. Interestingly enough, similar findings occurred during the modern world’s last viral outbreak, SARS, back in 2003. Although SARS did not change the global landscape in the same sense that COVID-19 has, statistics again show that more men died from the virus when compared to women.
Another theory for why men are more affected by coronavirus, is that COVID-19 has a high fatality rate among the elderly population, and since elderly men are more likely than elderly women to be afflicted by heart disease, then that could very well account for the difference in deaths. As well as coronary heart disease, other health factors that affect elderly men more than elderly women include diabetes, hypertension, nicotine dependence, obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart failure. Not to ignore that men, in general, have shorter life spans than women. One factor that is thought to account for this disparity, not just in the case of coronavirus, but other viruses in general is the biological differences in both innate and adaptive immune responses. According to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “women generally mount stronger innate and adaptive immune responses than men,” because the X chromosome carries a higher “density of immune-related genes.”
Due to the differences in the mortality rate between men and women infected with COVID-19, there are now two new clinical studies that have launched in the United States, with others taking place globally. In Los Angeles, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, doctors have been attempting to treat men with female sex hormones and observe their body’s response, and of course if these hormones assist in the struggle against coronavirus. Physicians in this particular study are dosing the male patients with progesterone. The female sex hormone, progesterone is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and will hopefully be able to prevent damaging overreactions of infected patients’ immune systems.
A lead physician at the hospital even commented that they noticed a vast difference in men and women at Cedars-Sinai, stating 75 percent of patients on ventilators at their location are men. This same physician noted that pregnant women seem to have an easier time when diagnosed with coronavirus, despite being immunocompromised. It’s believed this is because pregnant women have an abundance of estrogen and progesterone. This is what spurred the start of the study. A second clinical study that emerged and has been taking place at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University located in Long Island. It is very similar to the first study, and was created out of similar observations regarding pregnant patients. The main difference is they will be treating male patients with estrogen, rather than progesterone.
While we wait for the results of some of these studies, let us all remind ourselves to engage in safe behavior. Don’t forget to wash your hands, and don’t forget your hand sanitizer at home. Remember if you are experiencing symptoms to self isolate, and let us all come together to do our part in lessening the spread of this virus. Even if “come together” might mean coming together on a ZOOM call.