In countries including Britain, almost twice as many men are dying from the novel coronavirus as women, and scientists are trying to understand why.
According to ONS statistics, men died at twice the rate of women in England and Wales during March.
Men had a significantly higher rate of death even than women in older age groups, the Guardian reported.
Some of the reasons behind the disparity could be related to lifestyle, according to Professor Jenny Graves of La Trobe University, in an essay for The Conversation.
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Prof Graves wrote: “Male hormones also influence behaviour. Testosterone levels have been credited with major differences between men and women in risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol, as well as reluctance to heed health advice and to seek medical help.
“The extreme differences in smoking rate between men and women in China (almost half the men smoke and only 2% of women) may help to account for their very high ratio of male deaths (more than double female).
But Prof Graves also notes that smoking rates are not as gender-biased in other countries, so this factor can’t alone explain the disparity.
Gender health initiative Global Health 50/50 points out that men are more vulnerable to certain chronic conditions linked to deaths from COVID-19.
Global Health 50/50 reports: “Preliminary reports of people with severe COVID-19 disease have found associations with existing co-morbidities including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and some chronic lung diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These conditions tend to be more burdensome among men globally.”
Other genetic factors may also play a part, says Prof Graves in her Conversation essay.
Prof Graves writes: “We’ve known for a long time that women have a stronger immune system than men. This is not all good, because it makes women more susceptible to autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.
“But it gives women an advantage when it comes to susceptibility to viruses, as many studies in mice and humans show.
“This helps to explain why men are more susceptible to many viruses, including Sars and Mers.”
Researchers from the University of Minnesota investigated the ‘spike’ protein on the surface of Sars-CoV-2 to understand why the virus spread so rapidly.
The work could lay the groundwork for drugs to block the novel coronavirus from attaching itself to, and infecting, human cells, the researchers believe.
The study was published in the journal Nature.
Professor Fang Li said: “In general, by learning what structural features of viral proteins are most important in establishing contact with human cells, we can design drugs that seek them out and block their activity like jamming their radar.”
“Our work can guide the development of monoclonal antibodies that would act like a drug to recognise and neutralise the receptor-binding part of the spike protein.