Man flu may be real, study suggests

Faith Castro
December 13, 2017

What do you call a common cold when it strikes down a man in his prime?

"I do think that the research does point towards men having a weaker immune response when it comes to common viral respiratory infections and the flu", said Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine from the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He also found a Hong Kong study done between 2004 and 2010 that found men had a higher risk of admission to hospital as a result of flu and a US study from 1997-2007 found men had higher rates of death associated with the flu.

For example, a 2008 study found that women had a stronger immune response to the flu vaccine, meaning they produced greater levels of antibodies against the virus strains in the vaccine, compared with men.

Canadian researcher Kyle Sue took to investigating the phenomenon that got himself - and many other men - flack for being a "wimp" when coming down with the flu.

"While there are people who believe that "man flu" is an actual disease, and some men (and women) genuinely believe it is the reason they are unwell, there is little science to back this up", she concludes.

Several studies in Sue's research suggest that testosterone has an immunosuppresive effect, while several others suggest that female sex hormones boost women's immune system. He determined that there is an "immunity gap", meaning that men's immune systems may be weaker than women's.

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In addition, he raises the question of whether men who have the flu are more successful at finding mates.

If the Oxford dictionary defined the term man flu as "a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms", the Man Flu website explained it to be "a crippling and debilitating disorder indiscriminately striking down male members of the human species without warning".

Sue writes: "Since about half the world's population is male, deeming male viral respiratory symptoms as "exaggerated" without rigorous scientific evidence could have important implications for men, including insufficient provision of care". "As the author of the article alludes, it is now impossible to say whether there are sex-specific differences in susceptibility to influenza virus, or in the progression of the infection".

In addition, conserving energy when ill may have also been beneficial at one time in our evolutionary history.

Sue adds, tongue-in-cheek: "Classic modes of energy conservation may include lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with basic activities of daily living, which could all be effective for avoiding predators".

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