New research finds that adult men are significantly more likely to need intensive care treatment for COVID-19

11 Dec 2020, 3:28 p.m.

Adult men have almost three times the odds of needing admission to intensive care and 40% higher odds of dying from COVID-19 than women, according to a new study led by researchers at UCL, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Cape Town.The study, published in Nature Communications and the largest review of its kind, looked at publicly available data from 92 reports across 47 countries to investigate why COVID-19 may affect genders differently. Co-senior author Dr Claire Deakin from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and the Adolescent Centre said: “We know from previous work that women generally have a stronger immune response to pathogens that invade the body, like viruses.

“This better initial response could help them to clear the infection more quickly and may explain why men have a higher risk of severe infection with viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Women also have a more robust longer-term protection against pathogens.

“However this stronger immune response in females means that they are more likely to develop diseases where their immune system attack parts of the body – known as autoimmune diseases. Diseases like juvenile idiopathic arthritis are therefore more likely to develop in females.”

The research team usually focuses on understanding why young female children and adolescents are more like to develop diseases like juvenile idiopathic arthritis and lupus, than boys and young men. They used this knowledge to shed light on the susceptibility of adult males to severe COVID-19.

The authors note that one limitation of the study was that the data did not account for age and individual comorbidities, or ethnicity, which could limit the ability the predict the role of sex in disease severity.

However, despite these limitations, the data highlight an important trend in the epidemiology of COVID–19, with male sex acting as a risk factor for severe disease.

The authors hope the study’s findings are important for understanding the relative risk in men and women and the possibility that differences in immune systems between men and women might need to be taken into account for vaccination strategies.

This work was funded by a Centre of Excellence (Centre for Adolescent Rheumatology Versus Arthritis) grant, as well as grants from the Medical Research Council, Medical Research Foundation, NIHR and the NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre and GOSH Children’s Charity.