A key question about the coronavirus epidemic that experts are trying to solve involves the differences in the death rates among its victims.
So far, the rate of infection in the general population is not known; there are only estimates. But one notable statistic in the demographic data that have been collected so far is that although men and women get infected at equal rates, men have been dying from complications at a significantly higher rate than women. And the gender disparity exists in every age group.
For example, data from China show that among the tens of thousands of people infected there, 2.8 percent of men died from the virus compared with 1.7 percent of women. The median age of the fatal cases among women was also five years older than among men. Although research is being conducted around the world on SARS-CoV-2, the scientific name for the new coronavirus, there are still more questions than answers and scientists can only offer presumptions regarding the gender gap, which will require further research.
Prof. Ronit Sarid, a virologist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, explained that such gender differences exist in the body’s response to various diseases caused by viruses, as a result of the different way that male and female immune systems respond, or as a result of hormonal changes that have been linked to how the virus acts.
Security personnel wearing face masks to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk along a street outside Forbidden City in Beijing, China March 18, 2020. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/ REUTERS
Sarid mentioned that differences between the male and female immune systems are also responsible for the fact that women have more autoimmune disorders than men – due to the overreaction of the immune system. Among the 10 most common autoimmune disorders, women suffer more from nine of them, sometimes much more.
Cyrille Cohen, an immunology professor at Bar-Ilan, said that among the risk factors for death from the coronavirus are high blood pressure and heart disease – which are more prevalent among men than women.
Shani Gal-Oz, a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University, who is researching gender differences in the immune system, and is also affiliated with the Israeli Society for Gender- and Sex-Conscious Medicine, said a lot of research has shown that in general, men have a greater tendency to get infectious diseases (caused by bacteria or virus) and to get more serious cases of them.
That is because women’s immune systems are more active, she said. It means that the immune system that they are born with to counteract foreign intrusions is more efficient than that of men, but also that women are more prone to the system overreacting, resulting in autoimmune diseases.