June is Men’s Health Month, a time to bring more awareness to issues specifically related to the wellbeing of men. And topping the list of startling facts right now is this: While men and women seem to be equally susceptible to getting COVID-19, researchers are reporting that men are significantly more likely to either die or suffer more severe effects from the disease.
One recent study using data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that men are more than twice as likely to contract a serious case of COVID-19 or die from it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that men account for 65% of COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. And data from New York City mirrors that from China: Men have been dying at almost twice the rate of women.
Why is it happening? Early research has shed light on the reasons for this critical and often deadly gender bias. Here are 5 key factors scientists are considering:
#1: Men are more likely to have underlying health issues.
U.S. men have higher mortality rates for 9 of the 10 leading causes of death. This means they’re more likely than women to have a preexisting condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure or liver disease — all of which contribute to more negative outcomes from COVID-19.
#2: Male biology may make them more susceptible.
It’s unclear if and how anatomical differences may be at play. However, a recent study found that men have higher concentrations of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in their blood than women. Since ACE2 enables COVID-19 to infect healthy cells, this may be a clue to unraveling the mystery.
Another study reported that COVID-19 remained in men’s bodies longer than in women’s, six versus four days, respectively. If men are sicker longer, it gives them more time to develop serious or fatal complications.
#3: Hormonal differences may be at play.
Researchers have also theorized that higher estrogen levels may protect women. When scientists infected male and female rats with SARS (a virus related to COVID-19), the male rats were more likely to become infected. The same was true when female rats were given an estrogen-receptor blocker. Scientists are currently running a similar study for COVID-19.
However, experts don’t think hormones fully explain the gender discrepancy. For example, post-menopausal women are surviving at higher rates than men their age even when their estrogen levels are similar to their male counterparts.
#4: The X factor may give women an edge.
Women have two X chromosomes while men have only one. Scientists know that X chromosomes have a larger number of immune-related genes, providing women with a more robust immune system to fight off COVID-19. In fact, between estrogen and an extra X chromosome, women may have a double dose of coronavirus protection that men lack.
#5: Men are less likely to seek medical care soon enough.
There’s compelling evidence that men tend to delay seeking healthcare and are more likely to ignore symptoms of illness. While this is a well-studied gender difference, it’s one that could be deadly if not taken seriously during the pandemic.
The good news is this last factor is one that rests squarely in the hands of the individual. From preventative measures like handwashing and social distancing to contacting their doctors sooner when symptomatic, men can increase the likelihood they will fare better if infected with COVID-19.
Interested in learning more about coronavirus? Check out our COVID-19 Portal with the latest news and data from Puritan Medical Products, CDC and John Hopkins University.