Covid death risk in Ireland significantly higher for men than women, research finds

Men up to 50% more likely to die once infected, Society of Actuaries in Ireland says

Once a person has tested positive for Covid-19, they are at least 25 per cent more likely to die if they are male, according to   Society of Actuaries in Ireland analysis.  Photograph: EPA

Once a person has tested positive for Covid-19, they are at least 25 per cent more likely to die if they are male, according to Society of Actuaries in Ireland analysis. Photograph: EPA

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Covid-19 affects men  in Ireland more severely than women through a significantly higher risk of death, new research indicates.

Once a person has tested positive for the virus, they are at least 25 per cent more likely to die if they are male, according to the analysis by the Society of Actuaries in Ireland.

In some age groups, men could be up to 50 per cent more likely to die from the disease, the society suggests.

The disparity in the death rate for men and women was most marked in the third phase of the pandemic, from last December on.

“There may be different reasons for this trend – higher incidence of co-morbidities (obesity, heart disease, diabetes) among males, higher rates of smoking and alcohol intake among males, and better immune response systems among females. While reasonable, these are conjecture,” the society says in an accompanying blog.

In the first quarter of this year, Central Statistics Offices figures show there were 1,595 male deaths with Covid from 98,537 cases, a fatality rate of 1.62 per cent. There were 1,370 female deaths from 106,029 cases in the same period, or 1.29 per cent of the total.

“Overall, our analysis shows a gender bias [of survival] of over 20 per cent in favour of females at the highest aggregate level. That bias could, however, be nearly 50 per cent depending on the age profile of cases within reported age bands,” the society says.

Global consistency

The findings are consistent with experience in most other countries where data is available. Across 95 countries, a male/female death ratio of 1.35:1 - or 1.35 male deaths for every female death - has been reported.

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Commenting on the figures, the society says: “It is important to remember that these are not just figures, they are people, and each death is a trauma for a family.

“As the vast majority of deaths have to date occurred in older age groups, the success of the vaccination rollout may substantially alter the age profile of those who die with a Covid-19 infection. It will be interesting to see if the gender bias persists into the future.”

Previous research carried out last year was inconclusive about the gender bias in deaths, due to a lack of detail in the data. Since then, the CSO has been providing more data, with greater granularity, which allows for more precise analysis.

Meanwhile, pregnant women face the same level of risk from the virus as a 70-year-old person, according to new risk-assessment guidelines for healthcare workers from the Health Service Executive.

But if a pregnant healthcare worker is vaccinated or has been recently infected, their risk level is considered equivalent to that of a 60-70 year old.

While research has shown pregnant women are at no greater risk of contracting Covid-19 than others, they may be at greater risk of severe illness.

Pregnancy and danger

Due to this risk and the potential risk of Covid placentitis, which has been linked to stillbirths in Irish hospitals, all pregnant healthcare workers should be referred to occupational health before the end of their first trimester, the guidelines state.

They are considered to have a “Covid age” of 70, before their possible immunity due to vaccination or infection is considered. This is reduced by one age category if they have significant vaccine protection or were infected in the previous six months.

“Covid age” in an internationally used tool to assess a person’s risk from the virus, adjusted to take account of factors such as age, gender, race and underlying conditions.

Whether vaccinated or not, pregnant healthcare workers after 14 weeks’ gestation must not be considered for very high-risk or high-risk workplaces, as they should not work with known or suspected Covid patients, the document says.

The new rules for pregnant staff are contained in guidance for very high-risk workers who were not allowed to be at work during the pandemic but may now return after being vaccinated.

It says “at-risk” staff who are vaccinated can now be reassessed for a return to work “taking into account their medical conditions, their vaccination status, previous Covid-19 infection, the 14-day incidence rate and workplace risk”.

With another 377 cases reported on Monday, infection levels in the State remain stable. The pressure on the health service continues to ease, with the number of hospitalised patients falling to 69 and ICU numbers to 26.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the vaccination programme continues to roll out “very effectively and efficiently” with almost three million first doses administered. Almost 55 per cent of adults have had a first dose and 26 per cent are fully vaccinated, he said.

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