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Doctors discover why severe coronavirus cases are more common in men

Published Apr 21st, 2020 11:11AM EDT
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  • Men are more likely to die of a novel coronavirus infection than women, as statistical data has shown since the emergence of the new virus.
  • Some research indicates that it’s lifestyle differences that put men at risk of complications from a COVID-19 infection.
  • A new study shows that the women might recover faster than men because the coronavirus binds to a substance that’s found in the testicles, not just the lungs, heart muscle, kidneys, and GI tract.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus mostly kills old people and patients who have other underlying conditions, as we have heard ever since the early days of the outbreak. As the epidemic progressed and turned into a pandemic, we learned that men are more likely than women to experience severe cases of COVID-19 and die from complications. A study about a month ago theorized that coronavirus is killing more men than women because of several lifestyle choices particular to each gender. Men are more likely to engage in reckless behavior, including smoking and drinking. Those habits could then lead to health conditions that could endanger their lives in the event of a COVID-19 infection. Since then, other studies have said that smoking, marijuana use, and alcohol are all risk factors for COVID-19, as are obesity and other medical conditions. An older overweight man suffering from diabetes and heart disease might have a hard time dealing with the infection, and he might develop more complications than a woman.

It turns out that it’s not just lifestyle choices that may have a direct effect on the gender disparity when it comes to COVID-19 prognosis. Having a pair of testicles is apparently enough to worsen your odds when fighting a COVID-19 infection, or at least delay your recovery.

A study published in Medrxiv that has yet to be peer-reviewed explains that the reason men will need a longer time to recover from COVID-19 than women has to do with the way they’re built.

Doctors from New York and India observed a total of 68 patients in Mumbai, including 48 males and 20 females. The average age was 37, but the group included three 75-year-olds as well. Women were able to clear the virus from their systems an average of two days faster than men, the researchers discovered. The study included two families that included both male and female patients, and in both cases, the women cleared the infection faster than the men.

The study theorizes that the reason why women recover faster is that they have fewer ACE2 receptors to deal with. If ACE2 sounds familiar, that’s because that’s the receptor the SARS-CoV-2 binds to, with the lungs being the most affected region in the body. The novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus that thrives in the lungs, and that explains all the respiratory complications that follow.

But ACE2 receptors are also found in other organs, including the heart muscle, kidneys, GI tract, and testicles. The study says that the testicles are among the highest sites of ACE2 expression in three independent expression databases. Comparatively, there’s a minimal expression of ACE2 in ovaries.

This tiny difference may be vital in explaining why men need a longer time to clear the virus from their systems. The testes could be a viral reservoir where the virus might continue to replicate. The study needs more verification and more research might be required to prove the findings, as is the case for plenty of COVID-19 research right now since the disease is still so new. But the study does mention similar work from China, which demonstrated that men might exhibit testicular gonadal loss-of-function after infection. In other words, not only are your testicles going to hinder your recovery, but they might not even work properly during a novel coronavirus infection.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.