BEIJING — Are men far more likely to die from the coronavirus than women? A study by researchers at the Beijing Tongren Hospital in China found that male patients suffer from more severe COVID-19 symptoms and die at a rate more than twice that of females.
Up to this point, the elderly and those with some pre-existing conditions were considered the highest risk groups for the disease. The Beijing Tongren study is the first to compare gender differences in COVID-19 severity and death.
Men and women were found to be equally likely to contract the virus, but men are much more likely to die. The results suggest additional care and precautions could be required for older men and those with underlying conditions.
“Early in January we noticed that the number of men dying from COVID-19 appeared to be higher than the number of women,” said Dr. Jin-Kui Yang, a physician at Beijing Tongren Hospital, in a media release. “This raised a question: are men more susceptible to getting or dying from COVID-19? We found that no-one had measured gender differences in COVID-19 patients, and so began investigating.”
Dr. Yang and his team analyzed patient datasets to find differences in how men and women respond to COVID-19. The datasets included information on 43 patients who had been treated by doctors and a dataset on 1,056 COVID-19 patients that was publicly available.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 is similar to the SARS virus that broke out in 2003. SARS-CoC-2 attaches to the same protein as SARS, called ACE2. The doctors analyzed a dataset of 524 SARS patients from 2003 because of this similarity.
The analysis confirmed that older people and those with certain underlying conditions tended to have more severe symptoms and were more likely to die. The age and numbers of infected men and women were similar, but men appeared to have more severe disease.
In the largest COVID-19 dataset the researchers analyzed, more than 70% of the patients who died were men, a death rate 2.5 times that of women. The research team also found that being male was a significant risk factor for increased disease severity, no matter the age.
The researchers found a similar trend in the SARS dataset from 2003, with a much higher mortality rate for men compared to women. The protein both viruses attack, ACE2, is present in higher levels in men, along with patients with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The researchers added that further study is needed to learn exactly why men with COVID-19 fared worse on average than women. The study has a small sample size. Larger samples will be needed to confirm Dr. Yang’s findings.
Dr. Yang added that the study could have important implications for patient care during this pandemic: “We recommend that additional supportive care and prompt access to the intensive care unit may be necessary for older male patients.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.