Men Are Dying From Coronavirus at Higher Rates Than Women

Medical experts have some theories why, including smoking and drinking

Coronavirus is killing more men than women
Statistics from China, Italy and South Korea show men are more likely to die from COVID-19.
Photo: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

Early sex-disaggregated reports on coronavirus fatality, whether from China, Italy or South Korea, all tell the same story: men are more susceptible to COVID-19 than women.

Data from China shows a death rate of 2.8% for men and 1.7% for women. In Italy, where hospitals were likened to trench warfare last week, the numbers were larger, but the gender discrepancy remained — a 10.6% fatality rate for men, 6% for women. In South Korea, men claim 62% of all cases, and are 89% more likely to die, based on early reporting.

As Wired UK reported, medical professionals have struggled to figure out exactly why there is such a stark, consistent difference in immune response to COVID-19. It seems to transcend age, too. Of the 171 children and adolescents treated at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, 61% were male.

Both habitual and biological theories are being considered at the moment. For the former, many scientists have pointed out that each of these countries has far more male smokers (in China, over 50% of the male population smokes, as opposed to just 3% of the female population), who are battling coronavirus with compromised lungs. Drinking is also more prevalent amongst men throughout the world, and could affect the strength of their immune systems.

But a series of experiments conducted in 2016 and 2017, assessing the susceptibility of male and female mice to SARS-CoV infection, introduces a hormonal explanation. Female mice exhibited a stronger ability to fight pathogenic human coronaviruses, and that ability was directly weakened when their supply of estrogen was suppressed. Estrogen could be a key to understanding the gender difference in immune system defenses, but it’s going to take time — and data released in a sex-disaggregated manner, which the United States has so far failed to do — to investigate the hypothesis.

With time, though, scientists might be able to create a drug that reduces the risk of infection and fatality down to that of females.

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