“Biological sex is clearly a major factor determining disease outcomes in COVID-19.”
June 9, 2020
The Conversation – COVID-19’s deadliness for men is revealing why researchers should have been studying immune system sex differences years ago
When it comes to surviving critical cases of COVID-19, it appears that men draw the short straw.
Initial reports from China revealed the early evidence of increased male mortality associated with COVID. According to the Global Health 50/50 research initiative, nearly every country is now reporting significantly higher COVID-19-related mortality rates in males than in females as of June 4.
Yet, current data suggest similar infection rates for men and women. In other words, while men and women are being infected with COVID-19 at similar rates, a significantly higher proportion of men succumb to the disease than women, across groups of similar age.
Why is it then that more men are dying from COVID-19? Or rather, should we be asking why are more women surviving?
I am an immunologist, and I explore how stress and biological sex can impact a person’s vulnerability to immune-mediated disease.
I study a specific immune cell called the mast cell. Mast cells play a pivotal role in our immune systems as they act as first responders to pathogens and orchestrate immune responses that help clear the invading pathogens.
Our research shows that mast cells from females are able to initiate a more active immune response, which may help females fight off infectious diseases better than men. But the trade-off may be that women are at higher risk for allergic and inflammatory diseases. Recent evidence indicates that mast cells are activated by SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19.
Some clues to why females have higher survival rates may be found in our current understanding of differences in the immune systems of men versus women.
Could sex differences in immune system play a role?
In general, females have a more robust immune response than men which may help females fight off infections better than males. This could be a result of genetic factors or sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone … Read more.