Why Being Male Doubles Risk of Corona Death

March 29, 2020

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United with Israel– Shani Gal-Oz, a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University specializing in immune system gender differences, explained various factors causing significantly higher mortality rates in men than in women from coronavirus.

Though it is known that the elderly and immuno-compromised are disproportionally affected by coronavirus and have a much higher rate of mortality, men fall victim to the dreaded virus in staggeringly higher numbers.

At a recent White House press conference, Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Deborah Birx said that mortality in men was twice as much as in females in every age group. In China, two-thirds of the hospitalized patients were male. Seventy percent of fatalities in Italy were male.

Virologists have long noted that men are more susceptible to viral agents than women, and women tend to have more active immune systems than men. This is seen with common autoimmune disorders from which nine out of 10 sufferers are men.

Shani Gal-Oz, BGU Ph.D. student

Gal-Oz offered several insights into this phenomenon. She noted that women develop more macrophage cells from birth than men. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell in the immune system that engulf and digest cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes, cancer cells, and anything else that does not have the type of proteins specific to healthy body cells on its surface.

“We have seen that a portion of the macrophage population is active without immune stimulation, a phenomenon that has not been observed in males,” Gal-Oz said. “Portions of the X chromosome are involved in the regulation of gene expression of the immune system on other chromosomes and men have an X chromosome and a Y, while women have two copies of the X.”

Similarly, a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome related to coronavirus) study on mice found that female rodents were protected from the disease due to estrogen.

Gal-Oz hypothesizes that a woman’s body is designed to better fight viruses to protect a fetus.

“In pregnancy, the woman’s body has to avoid a negative response to the development inside of it of an entire organism, half of whose DNA is totally foreign,” she said. “Various mechanisms have to activate to suppress the immune reaction of the body so that it doesn’t act against the embryo.”

Additionally, behaviors more often found in men make them more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. For example, men tend to smoke more than women, have more cardiovascular disease due to poorer diet, and maintain lower standards of hygiene.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, shockingly, both sexes are lax in hand-washing after using public bathrooms. However, while 65 percent of women do so, only 31 percent of men do.

(Updated April 19) On March 12, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz announced the BGU COVID-19 Response Effort to harness the University’s vast brain power, research skills and ingenuity to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Prof. Daniel Chamovitz

“It is our moral obligation to contribute to coping with this pandemic,” Prof. Chamovitz said, urging BGU researchers to join the task force.

Prof. Chamovitz stated that the University would devote resources to bring the most promising projects to fruition.

“Since the outbreak of this coronavirus, it has become an international crisis that affects individuals, families, communities, and countries around the world,” Prof. Chamovitz says. “I am turning to you, our researchers, to make the coronavirus crisis and its repercussions your top priority, to be creative and practical in order to achieve significant contributions to the national and international challenges that stand before us.”

To date, some 70 projects are underway. Among them are:

  • A 5-minute diagnostic test for people to take at home
  • Identifying antibodies that will inhibit viral infection
  • Self-sterilizing reusable face masks
  • Support for the elderly and other vulnerable populations
  • Testing the occurrence of COVID-19 in wastewater

Click here for a list and description of projects>> (Updated April 19)

Donate now to support this research>>

A prototype of the self-sterilizing air filter mask designed by BGU’s Dr. Chris Arnusch

As everyday life around the world has been affected, the effects of coronavirus extend beyond the search for a vaccine. In addition to the University’s virologists, BGU scientists and students are addressing the public health, public policy, engineering, information systems, economic, psychological, technological, tourism, and educational challenges.

Watch the webinar that was held on April 7: BGU COVID-19 Research Breakthroughs

Listen to an interview with Prof. Golan Shahar, a clinical health psychologist and the Zlotowski Chair in Neuropsychology at BGU, and an adjunct professor of child study and psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. He has been studying the Israeli public’s response.

Prof. Angel Porgador, deputy vice president for research and development and head of the BGU COVID-19 Response Effort; Dr. Roi Gazit, Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics; and Avishay Edri, a Ph.D. student in the Shraga Segal department who initiated the volunteer testing project

More than 100 BGU scientists and graduate students are volunteering to increase blood sample testing for COVID-19 at the Clinical Virology Lab at Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva.

Dr. Roi Gazit, a researcher in BGU’s Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, says, “With many pairs of hands now available, we have quickly managed to reduce the backlog, easing the pressure on the lab team and, most importantly, quickly getting results to those who have been tested.”

AABGU Provides Financial Assistance

The BGU COVID-19 Response Effort requires financial support, and American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) announced its commitment to raise emergency funds, enabling BGU to participate fully in the world’s efforts at mitigation and containment.

“We support Prof. Chamovitz’s call to BGU scientists to pivot and put their efforts into fighting the medical and socio-economic consequences of this global pandemic,” says Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of  AABGU. “BGU is working to be the leading university in Israel in providing a comprehensive multidisciplinary coronavirus response effort.”

On Tuesday, March 17 , AABGU hosted a Ben-Gurion Briefing webinar featuring four leading experts on public health, pandemic emergency response management and immunology. Click here to watch.

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