Women and men are different in many aspects when it comes to disease-causing pathogens. An interesting fact is that these differences are also observed in the risk of contracting and responding to diseases, specifically infectious diseases. A well-known and well-studied example is COVID-19. COVID-19 affects both sexes equally, but it has been observed that men are at a higher risk of dying from the infectious disease than women. This is also true for the outbreaks caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
There are several factors as to why women and men respond differently to infectious diseases. Some of the more common reasons include hormonal factors, social and behavioral factors, exposure to different pathogens, and immune responses against different pathogens. Differences in exposure to different pathogens largely depend on cultural, socioeconomic, immunological, hormonal, and behavioral factors.
Differences in occupational exposures are also a reason for the disparity among genders. Men are more likely to adopt occupations, like mining and farming, which could put them at an increased risk for respiratory disease or a mosquito-borne disease, like malaria. Women also dominate the nursing field in almost all countries around the world, which increases their chances of contracting infectious diseases while caring for their patients.
Sex differences are also a significant challenge in clinical studies. As per regulatory guidelines, women that are of reproductive age are excluded from phase I clinical trials. Many therapies are then approved based on data that is solely gained from clinical studies conducted with all male participants.
Disease severity, susceptibility, and treatment responses are significantly affected by sex-based mechanisms. Considering both sexes in infectious disease research is essential, a better understanding of these relationships and the other mechanisms involved can help improve general health and prevent infectious diseases.
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1News-Medical. (2021, June 22). Sex Differences in Infectious Diseases. News-Medical.net. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Sex-Differences-in-Infectious-Diseases.aspx