Unlike influenza based infections, coronaviruses are primarily found in animal species. The strain (SARS-CoV-2) currently fueling our global pandemic began as a localized outbreak in Mainland China but soon penetrated every continent in the world except Antarctica.
In the US, the pathogen has been linked to a wide array of symptoms. Although the elderly, and the immunocompromised are disproportionality affected, the pool of high-risk populations is growing exponentially.
In every age and regional demographic, men are dying at a significantly higher rate than women. Of the 80,967 infected in China, 2.8% of male patients died from the illness compared to the 1.7% of female patients who succumbed.
The lion’s share of correlates responsible for this mortality disparity is behavioral, hormonal and genetic. To this point, virologists have noted in the past that men tend to get infected from viral agents more often than women
The novel coronavirus is composed of a series of genetic material and encoded with an envelope of S-protein spikes. There are key physiological factors that dictate how aggressively an individual’s immune system responds when these spikes attempt to impregnate a host cell.
Women generally have a more active immune system than men, which is why they more often suffer from nine of the 10 most common autoimmune disorders.
Macrophages are immune system cells that begin developing when mammals are born. Their quantity is very instructive in regards to one’s ability to fend off foreign material.
“We have seen that a portion of the macrophage population is active without immune stimulation, a phenomenon that has not been observed in males,” Explained Shani Gal-Oz, a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University, who specializes in immune system gender differences. The X chromosome has genes that relate to the immune system. “Portions of the X chromosome are involved in the regulation of gene expression of the immune system on other chromosomes and men have an X chromosome and a Y, while women have two copies of the X.”
A study conducted on mice premised by another common coronavirus, Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), determined that estrogen effectively protected female rodents from contracting diseases associated with Sars. This speaks to Oz’s hypothesis, given the gene for encoding estrogen is also the one on the X chromosome. Vital infection-fighting receptors are also located on the X chromosome.
To facilitate fertility, mammalian females adopt extensive measures to ensure the safety of her and her offspring.
“In pregnancy, the woman’s body has to avoid a negative response to the development inside of it of an entire organism, half of whose DNA is totally foreign. Various mechanisms have to activate to suppress the immune reaction of the body so that it doesn’t act against the embryo,” Oz continued.
Alongside these bio-mechanisms, men tend to adopt behavioral traits that make them particularly susceptible to respiratory maladies. Men tend to smoke more, eat worse and seek medical care less often than women-especially in the US.
It should be noted that 81% of those infected by the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is expected to fully recover without medical intervention.