As the number of COVID-19 cases around the world rises alarmingly - there is one thing that is becoming more apparent. Many more men are affected by the virus as compared to women. For example, in New York state as of April 9, for example, more than 60 per cent of over 6,200 total deaths have been men.
Experts believe that this virus poses a bigger threat for men than women perhaps because of biological differences between men and women. Researchers are still not entirely sure why this is. But there are already some intriguing clues.
There is a variety of key biological differences in the way men and women fight off infections. Women, for example, tend to mount a stronger immune response. Researchers think this is in part because most women have two X chromosomes, and the X chromosome happens to contain most of the genes related to the immune system.
Hormones like oestrogen might also help provide women with a more effective defence. A 2017 study in the Journal of Immunology looked into sex differences from the coronavirus that causes SARS (which seems to have killed more men than women during an outbreak in 2003). In that study, researchers found that male mice were more susceptible to the virus. But when they blocked oestrogen from working normally in the female mice, the females fell ill at higher rates.
One factor could be smoking rates. A review of existing research as of March 17 concluded that “smoking is most likely associated with the negative progression and adverse outcomes of COVID-19.”
There are a couple of reasons this could be the case, the World Health Organization notes. One issue is that smokers are more likely to have lung disease, which is an established risk factor for severe infection. The other issue is that when smoking, a person is more likely to touch their mouth or face, allowing the virus to enter the body easily.
And smoking is often more common among men than women. The World Bank reports that, as of 2016, about 41 per cent of South Korean men smoked versus about 6 per cent of women. Other social and cultural variations among genders also make a difference - for example, women tend to wash their hands more frequently than men in many cultures.
So though it doesn’t mean that women are immune to the virus, the chances of the virus being fatal are less likely. It does, however, pass on to anyone regardless of gender. There is research that shows that it is slightly less in women, but that is not concrete research to sticky by as there aren’t enough studies o the topic.