A new coronavirus study has shed light on why women mounted a more robust immune response and why men are more likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19.
Since early in the pandemic, studies have found that men, particularly older men, are at a considerable risk of dying from the virus than women of a similar age, but scientists have not yet been able to reach the reason behind it.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature, it was found that globally men account for about 60 percent of deaths from COVID-19. And the reason behind it could be the differences in immune responses.
“What we found was that men and women indeed develop different types of immune responses to COVID-19,” said the study’s lead author Akiko Iwasaki, a professor at Yale University. The immunity specialist said “these differences may underlie heightened disease susceptibility in men”.
Researchers gathered saliva, nasal, and blood samples from non-infected control subjects and patients with the coronavirus disease who were treated at Yale New Haven Hospital in the United States. Patients were monitored to observe their immune responses.
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The research looked at male and female immune responses to the new coronavirus and found that women immune response, involving T lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that can recognize viruses and eliminate them is much stronger than men. Older women too had robust immune system than older men, who had weaker T cell activity.
Men produced more cytokines, which are inflammatory proteins that form an aspect of the body’s natural immune defence. “Cytokine storm” has been associated to the severe cases of COVID-19, which is dangerous and potentially deadly because the body’s immune system goes into overdrive.
Men who showed high concentrations of cytokines were more likely to have a serious case of the disease, whereas women, who also showed higher levels of cytokine, appeared to fare worse.
This study implies that men and women need different treatments.
In men, for example “we should be enhancing their T cell responses with vaccines” Iwasaki said, while women could be given treatment to dampen the cytokine response.
The study also had its limitations in its sample size and high average age of patients.