• It was already generally understood that men are faring worse than women in the coronavirus pandemic, with the former being hit harder by the virus in terms of the severity of their illness and the frequency of death.
  • A new study published this week reveals that may be because of higher concentrations of a particular enzyme in the blood of men which helps the virus attack healthy cells.
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Health care experts figured out pretty early in the coronavirus pandemic in the US that while no one is really safe from the virus, it’s hitting some people harder than others.

One example is men vs. women, with the former tending to suffer a more severe illness associated with the virus (and to more frequently even die) compared to women. By the time the US had done about 1.5 million tests in the country, reports showed that 56% of those tested at that point were women (only 16% of whom tested positive for the virus). However, 44% or so of those tested were men, and 23% of them tested positive. “This is to all of our men out there, no matter what age group,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during a recent press briefing. “If you have symptoms, you should be tested, and make sure that you are tested.”

So what’s the reason for the disparity? A new scientific study published this week sheds more light, revealing that men seem to have higher concentrations of a particular enzyme (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) in their blood compared to women. That enzyme helps the virus attack healthy cells.

The study was published in the European Heart Journal on Monday, and it also found that some heart failure patients — those taking drugs targeting the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system — actually did not have higher concentrations of this enzyme in their blood.

About the results, Dr. Adriaan Voors, Professor of Cardiology at the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands and the leader of this new study, said: “ACE2 is a receptor on the surface of cells. It binds to the coronavirus and allows it to enter and infect healthy cells after it is has been modified by another protein on the surface of the cell, called TMPRSS2. High levels of ACE2 are present in the lungs and, therefore, it is thought to play a crucial role in the progression of lung disorders related to COVID-19.”

This is also in line with earlier research, such as a study of almost 45,000 COVID-19 cases conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that while the fatality rate for the coronavirus was 1.7% for women, it was 2.8% for men. Meanwhile, a study in Italy of 1,591 cases of people admitted into intensive care units showed that about 82% of them were men.

To be clear, what the new research shows — in tandem with the earlier studies — is that being male is one of what are now understood to be several risk factors that make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. With other factors including things like age, and poor health (such as the presence of a condition like diabetes).

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.