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Are Women More Immune Against COVID-19?

Are Women More Immune Against COVID-19?

Does COVID affect men more than women? Experts believe that our biological gender somehow has a hand in whether or not we’ll develop mild or severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Are Women More Immune Against COVID-19?

Sometime in the stretch of this pandemic, you might have heard about the possibility of women being more immune against COVID-19 than men. And you might be a little confused as to what that means.

First off, it doesn’t mean that women are less likely to contract the virus than men. It’s more like women are less likely to develop severe symptoms of COVID. But where did this idea come from?

The idea came from case reports submitted by various countries. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) back in February 2020 stated that the death rate among COVID-positive patients in China was only 2.8% among women but 4.7 % in men.

Other countries also submitted the following similar findings:

  • In Italy’s April 2020 report, they said that out of more than 21,500 deaths, 64% were men.
  • Spain had almost the same figures. With a total COVID-related death toll of more than 12,600, 59% were men.
  • Germany, too, reported that 58% of their total death rate (4,598) occurred in men.
  • In New York’s April report, 60% of those who died from COVID (15,302) were males.

The staggering statistics which denote the difference between men and women prompted several scientists to dig into the potential reasons why.

Possible Reasons Why Women Are More Immune Against COVID-19

As of now, the field of medicine still cannot offer the exact reason why COVID seems to hit men harder than women.

However, researchers have some scientific speculations that it’s because of the stronger nature of women’s immune response.

Let’s explain the nature of the differences:

There’s A Difference Between Our Innate and Adaptive Immune Responses

Why does COVID-19 affect men more than women? It might have something to do with women’s innate and adaptive immune response. So, before we proceed further, let’s differentiate the two.

  • Innate Immune Response. This is like the body’s “first responders.” They spring into action immediately or within hours of infection. They recognize that there is a virus or bacteria in the body and “attack” them to ensure our safety. Note that it’s a nonspecific immunity, meaning they don’t really know the virus or the bacteria, but they understand that they are “foreign” and must be subdued.
  • Adaptive Immune Response. This comes to our rescue later than the innate response, but they are just as important. Unlike the first responders, our adaptive immunity involves antibodies. Antibodies are special proteins that neutralize specific pathogens.

Women Seem to Have “Better” Innate Response

One of the components of our innate immune response is called toll-like receptor 7. This receptor helps in immediate recognition that a virus or bacteria is present in the body. Remember, the faster the recognition is, the faster the response.

Essentially, women probably have more toll-like receptor 7 because the gene for this receptor resides in the X chromosome. As we all know, women have two X chromosomes while men only have one.

Women Might Have More Interferons than Men

After the recognition of the disease-causing pathogen, our immune system will further respond. One of those responses is the activation of interferons.

Interferons are aptly named because they “interfere” with the reproduction of the virus. They are proteins that “instruct” our other immune responses.

Some studies indicate that women seem to produce more interferons than men. One of the possible reasons why is that the hormone, estrogen, stimulates the production of these proteins.

Women Seem to Also Have Better Adaptive Immunity

Experts state that women seem to produce more antibodies against influenza A virus than men. Moreover, the antibodies produced by women are more “effective” in terms of their ability to attach themselves to the virus. These are the type of antibodies that stop the virus from invading the cells.

While these are the potential reasons why women are more immune against COVID-19 than men, they also agree that the studies behind them are not in the context of the novel coronavirus. Rather, the studies were related to other viruses.

Other Factors Why Women are More Immune Against COVID-19

Does COVID affect men more than women? Perhaps, because aside from what seems like a better immune response, there are also other factors to consider regarding men’s “disadvantaged” immunity.

Experts explain that in general, men have the following disadvantages:

  • Men are more likely to smoke than women. As smokers have an increased risk of suffering from heart and lung complications, recovering from COVID might be more challenging.
  • They are less likely to wear masks, making them more vulnerable to contract the virus. Furthermore, women seem to be more careful than men in terms of sanitation measures. For instance, one study found out that “male sex is related to less frequency of washing hands.”
  • More men experience obesity than women. And while we need more studies to confirm the link, it seems that obesity is connected to how hard COVID hits some patients.
  • Finally, men have “higher rates” of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes – conditions that make them more prone to developing serious illnesses.

Key Takeaways

There are still a lot of things that we don’t understand about how differently the coronavirus affects men and women. Are women more immune against COVID-19? Studies seem to suggest so.

However, to be on the safe side, always remember that everyone is at risk at some level. For this reason, all of us must follow the safety protocols to slow down and eventually, stop the spread of the virus.

Learn more about COVID-19 here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Considering how biological sex impacts immune responses and COVID-19 outcomes
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-020-0348-8
Accessed August 28, 2020

Are men suffering more from COVID-19 than women?
https://www.topdoctors.co.uk/medical-articles/why-does-coronavirus-kill-more-men-than-women
Accessed August 28, 2020

Introduction to Immunology Tutorial
http://www.biology.arizona.edu/immunology/tutorials/immunology/page3.html
Accessed August 28, 2020

Sex Differences in COVID-19 Offer a Major Clue
https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/25385/
Accessed August 28, 2020

COVID-19 kills more men than women. The immune system may be why
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid-19-kills-more-men-than-women-why-immune-system
Accessed August 28, 2020

The relationship of COVID-19 severity with cardiovascular disease and its traditional risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054155v1.full.pdf
Accessed August 28, 2020

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jun 23
Medically reviewed by Erika Joanna Villanueva Caperonce, M.D.
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