Many recent studies about COVID-19 show that more men are dying from the deadly virus than women.
The death rate among men is 2.8% compared with 1.7% for women, according to a study by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The research suggests the trend will continue despite men and women being infected at similar rates. So what is it that makes women so much better equipped to fight the virus?
Dr. Sara Ghandehari, a pulmonologist, told the New York Times that men make up nearly 75 percent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care or on ventilators at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, infected men in New York were dying at close to twice the rate of COVID-infected women as of early April, NPR reports.
Estrogen and progesterone are critical to the reproductive system, but acording to The Post, scientists have recently learned that these two hormones, which are found in much higher quantities in women, also play an important role in immune support and damaged tissue repair. Thus, biological women may have the upper hand when it comes to beating the coronavirus.
The new finding has led medical researchers in China and, more recently, at Cedars-Sinai and the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University to launch a clinical trial for studying hormones as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.
“We may not understand exactly how estrogen works [in this context], but maybe we can see how the patient does,” Dr. Sharon Nachman, from Stony Brook University, told the Times.
The study group at Stony Brook will include 110 either confirmed COVID-19 patients or patients who are presumed to be positive, showing at least one critical symptom, such as high fever, shortness of breath or pneumonia, but who do not require critical care or ventilator support, according to ClinicalTrials.gov
Men aged 18 and up and women over the age of 55 — once their hormone levels have waned due to menopause — are invited to apply, The Post reported. Half of the participants will wear a patch on their skin containing estradiol, a type of estrogen, for one week; the other half will not.
Alternatively, the Cedars-Sinai trial will involve 40 men with moderate cases of COVID-19, half of whom will be injected with progesterone, rather than estrogen, twice a day for five days. Progesterone is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties which could suppress the so-called “cytokine storm,” causing your immune system to overreact and attack healthy tissue.
But critics say that caution is needed, as the current study does not take into account the fact that older men are “disproportionately affected” by the coronavirus compared with older women, even though they have more similar hormonal profiles at that age, according to Sabra Klein, who studies how infections impact men versus women at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“That suggests to me it’s got to be something genetic, or something else, that’s not just hormonal,” Klein told the Times, though she later admitted that hormone infusions in men may still provide marginal immune benefits.
“You could get a beneficial effect in both men and women,” she said. “But if women are better at recovery at 93 years old, I doubt it’s hormones.”