Men have a higher risk of hospital admission and higher rates of influenza associated deaths
A team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated phenomenon of men suffering more severe flu-like symptoms than women may actually have a place in fact.
In a new article published in the Christmas issue of The British Medical Journal, a Canadian academic investigated the claim of man flu – where a cold or similar ailment is experienced by a man who is then accused by the opposite sex of exaggerating the severity of his symptoms.
Despite the universally high numbers of viral respiratory illnesses, no scientific review had ever previously examined whether the term man flu is appropriate or accurate.
But Dr Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, set out to determine whether men really do experience worse symptoms than women and whether this could have any evolutionary basis.
Men may have weaker immune responses to respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity than women
Men may not be exaggerating symptoms, but instead have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses
And the positive findings will no doubt make men’s toes curl with pleasure.
For Dr Sue found evidence that adult men actually do have a higher risk of hospital admission as well as higher rates of influenza associated deaths compared with women in the same age groups, regardless of underlying disease.
In addition, for many acute respiratory diseases, men were also more susceptible to complications and had a higher mortality.
The study further found there was some evidence supporting the claim that men suffer more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.
Health officials have logged 72 flu-related deaths this year
Dr Sue therefore concluded that the idea that men habitually exaggerate the symptoms of their flu, was ‘potentially unjust’.
Man flu, rather than exaggeration, was factual.
He said: “Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women.”
But the study also noted that there may be an evolutionary benefit to a less robust immune system, as it has allowed men to invest their energy in other biological processes, such as “growth and reproduction.”
Dr Sue further stressed the benefits of conserving energy when ill.
He said: “Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators.”
But with tongue in cheek, he added: “Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.”
Despite the findings, Dr Sue added that further higher quality research was needed to clarify other aspects of man flu “because it remains uncertain whether viral quantities, immune response, symptoms, and recovery time can be affected by environmental conditions.”
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This year, doctors in Britain have warned they are bracing themselves for an outbreak of flu that could match a recent epidemic in Australia – one of the worst for a decade.
At least 170,000 cases were confirmed at the end of the Australian winter, more than twice as many as in 2016.
Health officials said they logged 72 flu-related deaths among this year’s total and this year’s flu vaccine in the UK has been tailored accordingly – though it remains to be seen how effective it proves.
Professor Andrew Easton, of Warwick University, said: “We know that the virus responsible for a large number of those cases was a strain of the H3N2 influenza virus.
“A similar viral strain was used to create part of the vaccine that has been distributed round Britain this month. However, we do not know how well it will work until this year’s flu epidemic begins.”