Why are men dying from COVID-19 at rates significantly higher than women?
Professors taking a detective’s approach to the mysteries of infectious disease transmission
Despite an intense global concentration of research effort on the coronavirus, big questions remain unanswered, such as why are men dying from COVID-19 at rates significantly higher than women?
In a piece published online this week in Frontiers in Public Health, Central Queensland University Associate Professor Olav Muurlink from the School of Business and Law and Professor Andrew Taylor-Robinson from the School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences argue that one needs to take a 360 degree look at one of the earliest COVID mysteries to emerge: the striking gender imbalance in apparent infection rates.
“Because of our involvement in the Bangladesh sector, and how the disease may ‘operate’ within a country that at that stage had no reported cases, we began looking at how the disease might act in the kind of very different environment it would find there,” says Assoc Prof Muurlink.
“There are cultural factors at play here, such as the propensity for men to wear beards, which will make the effective use of masks more difficult, and the likelihood that, in conservative rural areas, women are going to be less likely to report to (typically male) doctors”.
Taking this approach, particularly in relation to the separation between men and women in terms of living space and workspace, and the tendency of women – particularly those in conservative communities – to wear a veil that restricts facial touching when in public, the two are predicting that gender differences observed in COVID prevalence in countries like Italy and Australia are likely to be amplified in countries like Bangladesh.
“We do need to apply traditional ‘solutions’ to challenges like this”, says Prof. Taylor-Robinson. “We need a vaccine and effective antivirals, but at the same time we need to better understand not just the disease, but how we relate to it."