Are Women More Resistant To Coronavirus Than Men?

Scientists have long speculated that when it comes to fighting diseases, men are the weaker sex. Coronavirus could be offering more clues

V. Kumara Swamy Updated: Apr 7, 2020 17:35:45 IST
Are Women More Resistant To Coronavirus Than Men? Image used for representative purposes only

According to the latest figures—both of those affected by the coronavirus and deaths caused by it—released by the government of India, 76 per cent patients are male and only 24 per cent are female. The number of men is clearly disproportionately higher than those of women. A look at the data from other countries is no different from India, although it seems a bit on the higher side here. For instance, in Italy, more than 60 per cent of the people who tested positive for the virus are men and the numbers are on similar lines in England, Spain, South Korea and other countries.

Scientists, across the world, have been mystified by this trend, and while they are calling for more in-depth studies, they are also coming out with a few possible explanations. It was generally believed initially that smoking, drinking and general poor health were the reasons for more men dying than women due to coronavirus. Now many say that the cause is more complex.

A deeper study of the phenomenon of women being more resistant is likely to help in scientists' efforts to find a cure for COVID-19. Scientists from across the world, while still studying the possible reasons, however, agree on the point that women’s bodies may be better off than men when it comes to fighting off any kind of infection. The secret lies in women's hormones, they say.

The Washington Post quoted Robyn Klein, director of the Center for Neuroimmunology and Neuroinfectious Diseases at Washington University in St. Louis, US, as saying that the divergence in the infection could be an indicator that sex differences may be at play. According to Klein, women are able to mount a stronger immune response than men in almost all the cases of most infectious diseases, including the deadly HIV and hepatitis B and C.

According to those who have studied severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), outbreaks that were caused by the same family of viruses as COVID-19, more men were affected by these diseases.

The studies of birds and animals have also shown that the female of the species produce higher antibodies to ward off infections than men.

Writing in The New York Times, scientist and physician, Sharon Moalem says, "When it comes to survival, men are the weaker sex."

Moalem says that women's immune systems are more robust because of the extra X chromosome they have. Women have two X chromosomes (XX) while men only have one (XY). It is crucial, because X chromosomes come in handy for vital functions, such as building and maintaining the human brain and the immune system. “And biologists have long understood that XX chromosomes give females an advantage in some arenas: Having the use of a spare X in case the other is somehow defective is why females are less susceptible to disorders like colour blindness, for instance," Moalem writes.

Scientists have called for greater research in this field as the effect of diseases on gender difference has not been studied to the extent that it should have been all these years. But coronavirus could change all that.


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