Virus appears to strike men, overweight people harder

PARIS (AFP) – In the emergency rooms of virus hotspots around the world, medical staff are seeing a greater number of men than women suffering severe symptoms of COVID-19, with obesity emerging as another potentially aggravating factor. But experts are still unsure why.

What first began to appear as a pattern in China, where the virus emerged at the end of last year, has echoed through hospitals in Europe and the United States (US)as the pandemic spreads.

“More men than women have serious problems, and patients who are overweight or have previous health problems are at higher risk,” said Derek Hill, Professor of Medical Imaging Science at University College London.

Early statistics from Britain’s independent Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre on people treated in intensive care for the virus confirm this phenomenon: 73 per cent are men and 73.4 per cent are classed as overweight.

According to preliminary data of outcomes for those patients who had either recovered or died of COVID-19 in the period before April 3, obese patients were also less likely to recover after receiving critical care.

A man is tested at a coronavirus test centre in Germany. PHOTO: AP

Some 42.4 per cent of people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 were able to go home after successful treatment, compared with 56.4 per cent of patients with a BMI of less than 25.

French emergency rooms have seen “a very large proportion of overweight or obese patients,” ICU doctor Matthieu Schmidt at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris told broadcaster France 2, adding that “three quarters” of all patients were men.

In New York there is a similar picture emerging.

“I’m in the emergency room, and it’s remarkable – I’d estimate that 80 per cent of the patients being brought in are men,” Hani Sbitany, a reconstructive surgeon at Mount Sinai Health System who has been treating COVID-19 patients in Brooklyn.

“It’s four out of five patients,” he told the New York Times.

But why are so many men affected? Just months after the new coronavirus appeared, experts say it is too early to tell for certain.

The high incidence of men presenting with more severe symptoms is for now “an observation”, said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, who leads the coronavirus science council advising the French government.

While he said there was “no clear explanation”, he raised the theory that men had a higher frequency of multiple pathologies.