Man flu ‘may exist after all’

Experts have suggested that men may have weaker immune responses to respiratory viruses. Picture: PA
Experts have suggested that men may have weaker immune responses to respiratory viruses. Picture: PA
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The much-debated phenomenon of “man flu” may have some basis in fact, researchers have said.

Despite the age-old claims that men exaggerate the severity of their conditions, researchers showed they are more likely to be admitted to hospital or die from flu-related symptoms than women.

Kyle Sue, an assistant professor in family medicine from the 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.

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He found that for many acute respiratory diseases, men are also more susceptible to complications and more likely to die, according to the study published in the BMJ.

Some evidence also finds men suffering more from viral respiratory illness than women, because they have a less robust immune system.

Dr Sue said: “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 added: “The Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms’.

“Since about half of the world’s population is male, deeming male viral respiratory symptoms as ‘exaggerated’ without rigorous scientific ­evidence, could have important implications for men, including insufficient provision of care.”

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Men’s weaker immune system could allow them to invest their energy in other biological processes, such as growth.

Prof Sue added: “Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionary behaviours that protect against predators. 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.”