Research from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has revealed that men are more likely to pass away from coronavirus than women.
“The growing observation of increased mortality in men is holding true across China, Italy, Spain. We’re seeing this across very diverse countries and cultures,” said Sabra Klein, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“The pattern – men faring worse than women – is consistent with other viral respiratory infections.”
Deaths of men in Italy and China is more than double that of women and 61% of New York’s death cases have been men.
Researchers are not entirely sure why this is the case. They suspect it might have to do with biological factors. The X chromosome contains the majority of immune system-related genes, which helps create a wide diversity of immune responses. As most women have two X chromosomes and men have one X and one Y chromosome, women typically have stronger immune systems and are thus able to fight off sickness more easily.
“Hormones can also play a role, estrogen has been shown to increase antiviral responses of immune cells. And many genes that regulate the immune system are encoded on the X chromosome (of which men have one, and women have two) so it is possible that some genes involved in the immune response are more active in women than in men,” said Klein.
Research from Sarah Hawkes, a professor of global public health at University College London, echoes this sentiment. Her studies of global COVID-19 data have shown that men are 50 – 80% more likely to die from the virus than women. However, she suggests that biological factors are only part of a much larger story.
Hawkes believes that gendered behaviour may play a role in the statistics.
“We know from global data that those diseases are more common in men. And from the work that we do, our hypothesis is that those diseases are more common in men because of the gendered behaviors of men,” she said in an interview with NPR.
So heart and lung disease, a large part of the burden of heart and lung disease globally is driven by exposure to factors such as tobacco smoke and drinking alcohol and even things like air pollution — and a lot of that is very gendered behaviors. In many societies, it’s men who are more likely to smoke, it’s men who are more likely to drink alcohol; and it’s men who are frequently exposed to high levels of outdoor air pollution because they are frequently the ones who are driving cars, taxis, buses, trucks, whatever.”
She also adds that men are less likely to seek medical help than women, allowing their symptoms to worsen and lead to death. This was the same pattern of the Ebola outbreak.