Study Finds Coronavirus Impacts Older Men Harder than Women

A new study by Yale University has revealed that men are more likely to suffer significant impact from COVID19 or die of the disease because they have weaker immune response to the virus compared to women. The study published in Nature on 26th August 2020 found that men over the age of 60 need to depend on vaccines to protect against the infection.

As Fox News reports, the abstract of the findings explains “Female patients mounted significantly more robust T cell activation than male patients during SARS-CoV-2 infection, which was sustained in old age”. The T cell can prevent the spread of the infection and kill virus infected cells.

Dr Iwasaki said to the New York Times “When they age, they lose their ability to stimulate T cells. If you look at the ones that really failed to make T cells, they were the ones who did worse with disease.” However, “women who are older — even very old, like 90 years old — these women are still making pretty good, decent immune responses”.

The researchers from Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut explain that the findings offer further knowledge to the difference of how COVID19 affects different sexes. Researchers suggest that women and men may need separate vaccines and treatments in order to kill the virus effectively, “Collectively, these data suggest we need different strategies to ensure that treatments and vaccines are equally effective for both women and men”.

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Dr Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute in Hamburg, Germany commented to The New York Times explaining “You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine”. As Daily Mail reports, Dr Akiko Iwasaki, a professor at Yale University School of Medicine explains in a statement “We now have clear data suggesting that the immune landscape in COVID-19 patients is considerably different between the sexes and that these differences may underlie heightened disease susceptibility in men”.

In order to find the conclusions, the team of researchers assessed 22 women and 17 men who had been taken to hospital soon after they were infected with COVID19. For a period of three to seven days, the researchers collected blood, saliva, urine, stool and nasopharyngeal swabs from the patients. However, Dr Akiko Iwasaki, lead author of the study commented to the New York Times that patients on ventilators and those taking drugs that affect the immune system were excluded “to make sure that we’re measuring natural immune response to the virus”.

The results suggested that there was no difference in the level of coronavirus antibodies in men and women. However, in the early stages of infection male patients had more inflammatory proteins that female patients. As males have a higher concentration of cytokines, it is more likely the impact of the virus is more significant. To expand the research further, researchers also assessed data from an additional 59 men and women who did not meet the original criteria for the study.
In comparison to health care workers and healthy control individuals, the study identified that all patients had elevated levels of cytokines, proteins that propel the immune system to action. Some types of cytokines were elevated in all men but only in a proportion of women. Researchers found that women who had high levels of other cytokines had a higher chance of becoming seriously ill. Dr Iwasaki explained that these women may have a better response if given a drug that could blunt these proteins.

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However, previous research has indicated that women’s bodies are more likely to have a quicker and stronger response to infection because their bodies are equipped to fight pathogens that could threaten an unborn child. The study conducted by Yale University does have limitations, the small sample of individuals and the average age of the patient being older than 60, could suggest that the study makes it difficult to show an accurate representation of the difference in sexes and how the immune system responds with age. The study findings begin to explain why men are being impacted worse with COVID19 “The more robust T cell responses in older women could be an important clue to protection and must be explored further”.

From a global perspective, statistics show that men account for 60% of the deaths from COVID19. China, where the disease originally began to spread, has announced statistics that show two thirds of the patients who have died have been male. Whilst in the UK, the statistics further these as a study of 17 million people found that men are twice as likely to suffer from COVID19 compared to women.

The US Food and Drug Administration has asked companies to submit findings relating to gender, race and ethnicity.

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