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Coronavirus Pandemic is Killing More Men Than Women — Doctors Tell Us Why

Men wearing protective face masks rest on makeshift beds in a Catholic school's gymnasium which turned into a shelter for the homeless following the enforcement of a community quarantine in the Philippine main island to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)

Men wearing protective face masks rest on makeshift beds in a Catholic school's gymnasium which turned into a shelter for the homeless following the enforcement of a community quarantine in the Philippine main island to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)

The behaviour and health literacy of men vary greatly from that of women. The probability of men visiting their general physician is less. Further, men are less likely to admit their sickness and seek help.

With countries across the world reeling under the novel coronavirus pandemic, studies reveal that the possibility of infected men dying is higher than women.

The variation was first observed in China, where the death rates showed that 2.8 percent of men who caught the virus had died, compared to 1.7 percent of women who contracted it, said an Al Jazeera report. The same pattern was noted in Italy where the rate is presently 7.2 percent for men and 4.1 percent for women, the report added. In South Korea, too, despite a higher proportion of women testing positive for the virus than men, around 54 percent of the deaths were among men, the report added.

Though scientists have not been able to determine the exact reason yet, several theories do throw some light on the possibilities.

Poor Lifestyle Choices


Poor lifestyle is one of the factors that are being explored. One theory indicates to the likelihood of men engaging in unhealthy habits, which are linked to developing chronic illnesses, Dr Kayat writes. These lifestyle choices include the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) figures, men consume five times more alcohol than women. Additionally, men are five times as likely to smoke as women, the report said. Smokers are deemed to be at risk of experiencing complications like respiratory difficulties and pneumonia if they were to contract the coronavirus owing to poor respiratory health. But as more data surfaces from other countries, it becomes evident that this theory alone cannot be viewed as sufficient to explain the difference. In Italy, for instance, where the smoking balance is more at balance — 7 million men versus 4.5 million women smokers — this theory fails to provide the complete reason about why more than women died from coronavirus in Italy, the report added.

Hand-washing Habits


Another factor points to the habit of hand-washing. Washing one’s hands with soap is considered the most effective methods of checking the spread of the disease. Health experts have time and again reminded us of the importance of washing our hands with warm water and soap frequently as a way to decrease the likelihood of us contracting Covid-19. Studies indicate that men may not be as careful as women about hand hygiene, Dr Kayat writes.

A 2009 US study revealed that only 31 percent of men washed their hands after using a public toilet as compared to 65 percent of women, the report added. But, this theory too, fails to hold ground independently as the number of women catching the virus is almost equal to that of men — it is simply that the virus is killing more men than women.

‘Men Less Likely to Seek Medical Help’


The behaviour and health literacy of men vary greatly from that of women, the report said. The probability of men visiting their general physician is less. Further, men are less likely to admit their sickness and seek help.

Studies have also indicated that the reason for this behavior is the “perceived femininity” associated with health concerns. It thus indicates that while both men and women are catching the disease, women maybe just getting medical treatment earlier. Men, on the other hand, may wait till their symptoms get worse, therefore, decreasing their chances of survival, the report said.

Immunity System


Studies pertaining to other viruses have revealed that women provoke a greater immune response to a viral infection than men, the report said. This indicates that women are generally faster in clearing a virus from their bodies and reducing the viral load.

“The unfortunate payoff for this more efficient immune response is that women are more likely to suffer from autoimmune conditions as a result,” Dr Kayat adds.

Hormones


Studies have revealed that immunity linked to viruses differs with changes in hormone concentrations that take place at varying stages of the menstrual cycle, the report said. Hormones can be influenced by taking contraception, pregnancy and post menopause. It is thus possible that female hormones may be, at least to some degree, responsible for gender variation in Covid-19 death rates.

An Extra X Chromosome


Yet another factor resulting in women’s immunity system working differently is the presence of the extra chromosome, the report said.

“Women have two X chromosomes (XX) while men only have one (XY), and this is considered relevant to immune response because a significant number of genes that regulate our immune response is coded on the X chromosome,” Dr Kayat writes.

She adds that this is theoretical, but maybe having a second X chromosome adds some benefit.

“The differences that underpin the sexes are complex and I suspect that the answer lies in the combination of behavioural, immunological, hormonal and genetic factors,” Kayat concludes.
first published:April 06, 2020, 14:03 IST