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Why women are less likely to die from the coronavirus than men

As we brace ourselves for the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it may be worth looking at a study carried out by the Chinese Center for Disease Control. The research, which studied the impact of the novel coronavirus, covered 44 thousand people, and tried to come to grips with the illness that shut the country down for most of the winter. In it, the study showed that of those infected, 2.8 percent of the men who were infected ultimately succumbed to the illness, while 1.7 percent of women died. The study also showed that 0.2 percent of children and teenagers died, as did 15 percent of those who were over 80 years old. 

The BBC, which reported on the study, highlighted what they felt were two important parts: that the virus didn’t seem to affect children the same way — but it also said children were less likely to catch the virus: “One reason we haven’t seen so many cases in children is they are protected at the beginning of outbreaks: parents keep children away from the sick,” Nathalie MacDermott, a doctor from King’s College London, says.

Studies show women are generally in better health

The BBC also highlighted the gender difference in the death rates, but the data was not surprising to researchers, who say men are usually in worse overall health than women are, thanks to lifestyle choices like smoking — which is prevalent among Chinese men. But the BBC says there are also differences in the way men and women respond to infections. “Women have intrinsically different immune responses to men,” says Professor Paul Hunter, a health protection expert. “Women are more likely to suffer from auto-immune diseases, and there is good evidence that women produce better antibodies to vaccines against flu.”

But typical gender roles may work against women in societies hit hard by disease. The New York Times says nearly 70 percent of healthcare workers around the world, and on the front lines against the coronavirus, are women. In the U.S., that percentage is closer to 80. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, tells The New York Times that nurses are more exposed to the disease than doctors are because “they’re much more involved in intimate care of patients. They’re the ones drawing blood, they’re the ones collecting specimens.” Women are also the ones who usually take on the burden of caring for the sick at home. 

But what researchers have found is that in a global health crisis, even if women are less likely to die, gender-based issues that might address women’s needs are, for the most part, ignored.

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  • Posted on March 17, 2020