Men Suffer More Severe Flu Symptoms Than Women

Have you ever been derided for overreacting to a bout of common flu?  A lot of men have.  There is even a term for males thought to be acting like drama queens when sick with the bug.  It’s referred to as a “man flu.”

But now you can claim scientific evidence that getting through flu for men is much tougher physiologically than for the other half of the human race—the women.

Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine from Memorial University, Newfoundland recently published his research on this subject in the British Medical Journal.  His findings suggest that men do actually have a tougher time fighting the virus because of the immune-weakening testosterone hormone.

“There’s actually some evidence that suggests that men actually do experience worse symptoms, longer-lasting symptoms. They’re more likely to be hospitalized or actually die from common viral respiratory infections,” Dr. Sue said in a CTV News Channel interview. “It’s not fair to write all men off as exaggerating their symptoms whenever they have a cold.”

Dr. Sue’s research suggests that hormones affect the severity of symptoms. “It looks like the higher the testosterone, the weaker the response, and the higher the estrogen, the stronger the response,” he said.

Dr. Sue’s primary source of evidence is a study on mice in which female mice showed a stronger immune response to dealing with an illness.  But, his research data backs up the mice study.  “Epidemiologic data from Hong Kong showed that adult men had a higher risk of hospital admission for flu,” Sue said.  And an American study showed that men died more often from flu compared with same-age women, regardless of underlying diseases.

But before you start using this recent study as an excuse to claim potentially fatal influenza for a case of sniffles, keep this in mind.  Dr. Sue says that neither the data from Hong Kong or the American study differentiated men and women based on other differences, like smoking and drinking rates (and) willingness to seek medical help and these unknowns may have influenced the results.

In other words, while this study sheds a lot of light on gender differences in the human immune system, it does not unequivocally prove its thesis.  Still, Dr. Sue’s findings are something worth knowing when you’re feeling completely unravelled by a flu bug, and the woman in your life tells you to “man up.”

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