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June 25, 2020
COVID-19 appears to be hitting men harder than women, and four months into the pandemic, the reason is still a mystery. Scientists are looking at a range of potential factors, including immune response, a protein called ACE 2, hormones, smoking and the well-documented male reticence of going to the doctor.
“Doing research, it’s like you’re trying to throw an anchor into the vast ocean of possibilities,” Christina Jamieson of the University of California (UC), San Diego, told Science.
Sixty-three percent of NY City COVID-19 deaths, for example, have been males.
Among the theories for male over-representation in COVID-19 severity and deaths:
None of the theories have been confirmed and simple answers are unlikely. Female hormones, for example? They level off in old age, but a male/female disparity holds in seniors. Smoking? Makes sense, except that smokers appear to be underrepresented in COVID-19 cases.
More data needed
“A gender lens is critical for understanding the patterns that we are currently seeing,” Patricia Rieker, a medical sociologist and visiting professor at Boston University, told Time magazine. “I would like to see a better portrait of the men who died compared to the women who died,” she says, but gathering years’ worth of health and behavior information isn’t easy. “It’s a far more complex story for which we don’t really have data.”
As always, human biospecimens provide “the data” in a lot of biomedical research. We’ll be watching. And helping.