Research has shown that sex and gender play an important part in fighting COVID-19. A recent study made in the UK analyzing nearly 11,000 COVID-19 deaths showed that women are more resistant in the face of the novel coronavirus compared to men, as they develop a stronger T-cell immune response. Loosely translated, men are 2.4 times more likely to die from coronavirus than women, as data from Wuhan, China, shows.
“We now have clear data suggesting that the immune landscape in COVID-19 patients is considerably different between the sexes and that these differences may underlie heightened disease susceptibility in men,” Akiko Iwasaki, senior author of the new study, said in a press release.
Our immune system needs T-cells in order to identify and destroy an invading virus such as the novel coronavirus, and according to studies, women usually produce more T-cells than men do.
Furthermore, besides the fact that men develop fewer T-cells compared to women, their strength and the number of proteins they produce seem to go down even more with age. So, men T-cells not only are fewer but they’re also weaker. According to the study, older men with low T-cell responses are likely to experience a more severe COVID-19 form. When it comes to females, their T-cells are not affected by age.
Now the question is: Do men and women need different treatments for curing COVID-19? Experts suggest therapeutic interventions and vaccines for boosting T-cell levels in men.
“You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine,” explains Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute in Germany.
In addition, “some of the underlying reasons why COVID-19 may be more deadly for men than women may include the fact that heart disease is more common in elderly men than in elderly women,” explains Dr. Stephen Berger, an infectious disease expert and co-founder of the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network (GIDEON). “Studies also find that high blood pressure and liver disease are more prevalent in men and these all contribute to more negative outcomes with COVID-19.”
Men also have higher concentrations of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in their blood than women do. Angiotensin-converting is an enzyme that allows coronavirus to attack healthy cells. But for that, you can only blame genetics.
“Genetics may also play a big role,” Berger said. “Women, because of their extra X chromosome, have a stronger immune system and response to infections than men.”
“You can’t get away from biology and genetics,” agreed Salvatore J. Giorgianni, PharmD, a pharmacist and senior science advisor for the Men’s Health Network.
Even though males like to believe that they are stronger than females, “women are not the ‘weaker sex’ when it comes to immunity,” Giorgianni added.
However, higher rates of death among men in facing deadly viruses are not something new for scientists. For instance, the1918 worldwide flu also registered way more deaths in men than in women.