Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women?

The ongoing Corona pandemic has engulfed around 185 countries around the world. Scientists and Experts are busy in the troubling times in conducting various searches to find an antidote to the virus. A new attempt is being made to analyze sex-disaggregated data to study the effect of the Novel Coronavirus on males and females, although the topic remains overlooked usually. But, the outcomes of the research are baffling. “Almost in all the countries of the world, men are more prone to the virus than women.” It is not because women wash their hands frequently, wear masks, or maintaining hygiene, but their genes dictate the results.


Round the globe, the men-women corona infection ratio is more than 60:40. The official figures of countries like China, the USA, Italy, which are among the worst sufferers of the pandemic, follow this fashion. There was a 1.1% difference in the death rate of Chinese men and women till the beginning of February, but later on, the difference increased. However, Italy shows a wider gap of 4.6%, with 10.6% infected men dying while only 6% of women deaths. Let’s explore the reasons behind the high men fatality due to Corona.


One of the worst-hit countries of the world, Italy, has men as a patient of sixty percent of confirmed corona cases. Particularly older men are at the hit-list of COVID-19. Ryan Steele, an assistant professor of clinical medicine in rheumatology, allergy, and immunology at Yale School of Medicine, said, “This would indicate that the underlying differences in the immune response among genders may play a larger role than we have appreciated so far.”


One other contributing factor of high male fatality is the more enhanced prevalence of chronic diseases like heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer among men than women. Caroline Criado Perez Activist and author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, says, “The heart diseases are biased towards men. The women’s immune system is more active and can fight the virus”.


In April 2013, Discovery magazine concluded based on research that women have stronger immunity in comparison to men. The reason was attributed to a pair of genes associated with the production of cytokines, antibodies, and fat metabolism. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Women have stronger immunity than men making them less vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. According to an article published by Live Science, women have five times less risk of developing cancer than men. The higher level of estrogen in females protect them from these chronic diseases.


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Usually, people have 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell of their body. The 22 pairs of chromosomes are similar in both the sexes, but one pair is known as sex chromosomes is different in males and females. Men have XY pair of sex chromosomes, while women have XX pair of sex chromosomes. The mother of a child contributes only X chromosome during fertilization of an egg. The father donates the other chromosome. Therefore, the nature of the chromosome sent by the father determines the sex of the child. The Y chromosome contains the SRY gene on it. The SRY gene dictates the cells to produce sex-determining region Y protein. This SRY gene is responsible for the development of testicles in the male child. The testicles produce a hormone known as testosterone, though it is produced in females also by the ovaries, but in very small amounts. The higher levels of testosterone made men the victim of weak immunity.

Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women?

It’s not only sex but gender too, which contributes to the biasedness toward men. Gender is a socially constructed behavior. The difference in the lifestyles of men and women is treated as one of the important reasons behind the higher prevalence of infection among men. The lifestyle difference includes the statistics of smoking habits too, which shows a wide gap in smoking patterns between both the sexes. According to an article published in Translational Lung Cancer Research, 50% of the male population smokes in China compared to only 3% of Chinese women smokers.


Data reveal that men tend to smoke more frequently than women. Along with creating other respiratory problems, smoking reduces the capacity of lungs narrows the airways, swells them, and it leads to the production of excess mucous. After a short period, the air-sacs get permanently damaged. The reduced lung capacity increases the chances of getting infected with Coronavirus manifolds. The presence of more than 70 known cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) in tobacco makes it highly injurious for human consumption. One of the main constituents of cigarettes is Nicotine, which suppresses the immune system. Including this, men are more exposed to the outside environment and, therefore, subject to more air pollution than women.


It is not the first time that a pandemic is killing more men than women; the influenza pandemic of 1918 also took a heavier toll on men’s lives. However, more women died from Ebola than men. Bhanu Sud, MD, an infectious disease specialist with St. Jude Medical Center in Orange County, California, told Health “A person’s immunity is based on age, whether they smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs, as well as other medical issues and what medications they are taking, Genetics also plays a role, but there is a lot more analysis to do.”


The results of a series of experiments conducted on mice by the University of Iowa confirmed that male mice were more likely to die from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The genetic buildup of the Novel Coronavirus is almost 79% similar to the SARS virus.


However, there is another side to the story. Prof. Sarah Hawks Co-founder and co-director of Global Health 50/50; Director of the Centre for Gender and Global Health and Professor of Global Public Health at University College London said, “Not all countries are content to provide the basic details. It is making the situation more frustrating.” According to Global Health 50/50, still, there are a few countries whose data is unavailable. Countries like Brazil, Czech Republic, France, and Chile have issued only partial data.


A large number of countries have not submitted the COVID-19 death stats, based on genders, like Indonesia, Israel, UAE, and Egypt. Only 55 countries have submitted the data. There is still no certainty that the Novel Coronavirus affects fewer women because we lack historical data to support. The discussion on the topic is crucial, because, most of the nurses and therapists are women, and they come into frequent contact with COVID19 patients, which poses a high risk to their safety.

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