Why do more men die of coronavirus than women?

Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 9:31 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 9:31 am
In March, the death rate for men was twice as high as that of women in England and Wales (Photo: Shutterstock)

Many people who contact coronavirus will only suffer mild symptoms and will recover within around a week, without needing medical care.

But while this may predominantly be the case, there are some people, including the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, that will be worse affected.

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And now new data suggests that men could be more severely affected than women.

Is the coronavirus death rate higher among men?

In March, the death rate for men was twice as high as that of women in England and Wales, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Of the 3,912 deaths recorded in England and Wales during this period, as many as 3,372 (86 per cent) had coronavirus named as the underlying cause.

Data revealed that of these deaths, there was at least one pre-existing condition in more than nine out of 10 cases (91 per cent), with chronic ischaemic heart disease being the most common condition.

The rate of death due to coronavirus increased significantly based on age group, starting from age 55 to 59 years in males, and age 65 to 69 years in females.

Overall, one in five deaths were in the 80 to 84 age group.

The mortality rate for men who died due to coronavirus was 97.5 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was much lower at 46.6 deaths per 100,000, the ONS said.

In the cases where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate, the death rate for men was 113.1 per 100,000, and 54.1 per 100,000 for women.

Why are men worse affected by coronavirus?

While the data from ONS suggests that coronavirus disproportionately affects men in their 50s and 60s, this age group is not singled out as a ‘high risk’ group.

Death rates were found to increase in every age group for both men and women, although this became more significant for men from the age of 55 and over.

However, the ONS pointed out that in general, men have a higher mortality rate than women.

So why the higher death rates?

Scientists are unsure as to why men aged 55 and above appear to be worse affected than women by coronavirus, but it has been suggested it could be related to other health conditions.

Men are more susceptible to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung disease, which could put them at increased risk.

There have also been suggestions that genes and sex hormones could also be a factor.

Women carry two copies of the X chromosome, compared to the single X and Y that men have, and a number of critical immune genes are located on the X chromosome.

Prof Philip Goulder, an expert in immunology at University of Oxford, told the BBC: "It is becoming increasingly recognised that there are substantial differences in the immune system between males and females and that these have significant impact on outcome from a wide range of infectious diseases.

"The immune response throughout life to vaccines and infections is typically more aggressive and more effective in females compared to males."

Is the mortality rate higher than normal?

Despite the outbreak of coronavirus, the ONS said the overall mortality rate for March was actually “significantly lower” than the five-year average.

The ONS suggested this could be due in part to the colder winters in 2015 and 2018, which led to a higher number of deaths in the winter months.

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