Respiratory Infections Hit Women Harder than Men

In a study of young adults who had confirmed respiratory infections, US military hospital researchers found the women reported more severe and longer lasting illness than the men.

As flu and cold season approaches, a research team presented a timely study on how women and men differ in the severity of symptoms they report.

Unless the women in the study were exaggerating or the men downplayed their illness women tend to get worse illness than men.

Robert Deiss, MD, of the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science in Rockville, MD, and colleagues there and at other military facilities enrolled subjects at five US military hospitals from 2009 to 2014.

All had respiratory pathogens diagnosed by PCR tests.

Individuals were asked to classify symptoms as either none, mild, moderate, or severe.

The team scored the subjects through seven days of illness rating the severity of symptoms in four categories: lower respiratory: cough, breathing difficulty, hoarseness or chest pain; upper respiratory: earache, running nose, sore throat or sneezing; systemic: chills, muscle ache, headache, and fatigue; and total sum.

Of 897 respiratory infections analyzed there were 492 cases in men and 405 in women. The median age for women was 28 and for men 29.

Actual cases of flu (173) were removed from the findings since some subjects had been vaccinated and some had not.

Most of the remaining infections were caused by rhinovirus/enterovirus or coronavirus.

The team found that women were significantly more likely to report severe hoarseness, fatigue, earache, muscle ache, nausea, and sore throat than the men.

Composite severity scores did not differ between women and men on the first two days of illness. Women reported higher severity scores on days three through seven.

They concluded that “women reported more severe respiratory symptoms than men,” and that “further research regarding sex-based differences on the natural history of respiratory infection is warranted.”

The study was presented Oct. 28 in a poster session at IDWeek 2016 in New Orleans, LA.

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