Is 'man flu' real? Medical science delivers comfort to helpless male snufflers

'Man flu' is real: Research says men experience worse symptoms

While no one likes being sick, having a really bad flu can knock a person out of commission for a significant chunk of time.

For instance, he cites epidemiological data from Hong Kong showing that men were more likely than women to be admitted to a hospital for any reason between 2004 and 2010, and a US study that found higher rates of flu-related deaths for men than for women between1997 and 2007.

The study suggested it was possible that the "man flu" has an evolutionary backing, whereby early male ancestors had weaker immune systems as a preventative measure to keep them from going out hunting when an illness was lurking.

Doctor Kyle Sue, author of the study and an assistant professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, searched for relevant studies, and he found a good deal of evidence that he said is "suggestive of an immunity gap" but "not definitive".

And, a study quoted by Dr. Sue showed that men with higher levels had a lower immune response to influenza vaccines, which indicates that testosterone may have an immunosuppressive role.

As a result, Sue believes that the common perception of "man flu" as an exaggeration is unjust.

Sue warns that, if these hormones do have a profound effect on the immune system, then "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".

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Other studies from Hong Kong and the United States have found that, compared with women, men have a higher risk for hospital admission and death from the flu. Their quest for dominance meant that they frequently died fighting for the chance to reproduce; women, on the other hand, needed to endure to nurture the resulting offspring.

Furthermore, Sue also suggests that men are more susceptible to complications and have higher chances of dying from severe respiratory diseases.

Whilst Sue's review was admittedly very tongue-in-cheek (a hallmark of the Christmas edition of the BMJ), he does argue that there should be more serious and rigorous research undertaken to truly explore immuno-differences between men and women.

Given the added pressures of the patriarchal notions of masculinity, women eventually lash out at men, mocking their symptoms and dismissing them as fabrication.

In the meantime, how does Sue feel society can adapt to the fact that man flu is most likely a real phenomenon?

In an extravagant flourish, Sue notes that "there are benefits to energy conservation when ill".

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