The sickening truth at last: ‘Man flu’ is real

Research reveals men suffer more from viral respiratory illness than women

Man flu: Dr Kyle Sue has uncovered evidence men suffer more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.

Man flu: Dr Kyle Sue has uncovered evidence men suffer more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.

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Just in time for this year’s influenza season comes news that “man flu” may, in fact, be a genuine phenomenon. That’s according to an article in the British Medical Journal, which looks at whether men are wimps or just have weaker immune systems.

Defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”, the concept of man flu is seen by some men as unjust.

One such man, Dr Kyle Sue, assistant professor of family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, set out to determine whether men really experience worse symptoms than women and whether this could have any evolutionary basis.

Dr Sue analysed relevant research and found some evidence that adult men have a higher risk of hospital admission and have higher rates of influenza-associated deaths compared with women in the same age groups.

But most cases of man flu are due to respiratory viruses other than influenza; the Canadian academic uncovered some evidence that men suffer more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.

Immune responses

Dr Sue concludes that the concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust. “Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women,” he writes.

However, there may be an evolutionary benefit to a less robust immune system, he explains, as it has allowed men to invest their energy in other biological processes, such as growth, secondary sex characteristics, and reproduction.

There are benefits to energy conservation when ill, adds Dr Sue.

“Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators,” he said.

“Perhaps now is the time for male-friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.”

A reaction from the other half of the world’s population is awaited.

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