Women may have better immune responses to COVID-19

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In a new study, researchers tested male and female immune responses to the COVID-19 virus.

They found women may mount stronger COVID-19 immune response.

The finding may explain why men are more likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19.

The research was conducted by a team at Yale University.

Previous research has shown that men, particularly older men, are at a far higher risk of dying from the virus than women of a similar age. Globally, men account for about 60 percent of deaths from COVID-19.

However, scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint exactly why.

In the study, the team looked at whether differences in immune responses could provide an answer.

They collected nasal, saliva, and blood samples from non-infected control subjects and patients with the disease. They then monitored patients to look at their immune responses.

The researchers found that men and women indeed develop different types of immune responses to COVID-19.

They found that women mounted a more robust immune response involving T lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that can recognize viruses and eliminate them. This was the case even among older women.

In contrast, older men had weaker T cell activity—the older they were, the weaker the response.

Overall men also produced more cytokines, which are inflammatory proteins that form another part of the body’s natural immune defense.

However, severe cases of COVID-19 have been linked to what is known as a “cytokine storm”, when the immune system goes into overdrive, which is harmful and potentially deadly.

Men who showed high concentrations early on were more likely to have a severe case of the disease, while those women who also showed strong cytokine levels also appeared to fare worse.

These differences may underlie heightened disease susceptibility in men. They could imply that men and women need different treatments.

The team says doctors should be enhancing their T cell responses with vaccines while women could be given treatment to dampen the cytokine response.

One author of the study is Akiko Iwasaki, a professor at Yale University.

The study is published in Nature.

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