Why women are much better at fighting off Covid than men

Why women are much better at fighting off Covid than men. By Dr Michael Mosely.

Studies suggest women are being protected against some of the worst effects of the infection by the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and researchers are now giving men with Covid these hormones to see if this can prevent prolonged hospitalisation and death.

The different ways the sexes respond to Covid are striking. Right at the start of the pandemic, data from China showed that two-thirds of those in hospital were men, and that men who got Covid were 50 per cent more likely to die.

I remember my son, Jack, who was working as a doctor in a Covid ward in Manchester, telling me how struck he was by the extraordinary number of really ill, middle-aged men he was looking after. …

No doubt this is partly linked to men being notoriously bad at looking after their health — they drink and smoke more and eat less fruit and vegetables than women. …

Men are also more likely to be overweight: 80 per cent of men over 55 are overweight or obese (compared with 68 per cent of women), which helps explain why type 2 diabetes is more common in men (the disease raises your risk of severe symptoms or dying from Covid if you catch it). …

The result is that women typically mount a much stronger immune response to infection (oestrogen helps regulate the T cells, a vital part of the immune system) and they also produce a stronger immune response to vaccines. …

The downside, however, is that women are more likely to develop an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system goes rogue and starts attacking the body. …

Researchers in Wuhan found that women with lower oestrogen levels were far more likely to suffer severe symptoms. And a recent study from King’s College London … found that those aged between 18 and 45 taking the combined Pill (a mix of oestrogen and progesterone) are much less likely to develop symptoms than women not on the Pill.

Similarly, women taking hormone replacement therapy (in the form of oestrogen) who catch Covid are much less likely to die than those who aren’t taking it. …

An alternative approach is to reduce the male hormone, testosterone. There was a lot of concern last year among my balder-headed friends, when a study found that men with male-pattern baldness (typically driven by higher levels of testosterone) were 40 per cent more likely to end up in hospital with Covid than those with a full head of hair.

Haven’t heard that mentioned in the media coverage. Like life expectancies, imagine the outcry if it was the other way around.