A recent study published today in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion finds that girls are “significantly” more likely than men to suffer from protracted COVID and will exhibit dramatically distinct symptoms.
Long COVID is a condition in which problems continue for more than four weeks after the initial COVID-19 infection, and in some cases for many months.
Researchers from the Johnson & Johnson Office of the Chief Medical Officer Health of Women Team analyzed data from approximately 1.3 million patients and found that females with long COVID exhibit a variety of symptoms, including ear, nose, and throat issues; mood, neurological, skin, gastrointestinal, and rheumatological disorders; and fatigue.
However, male patients were more prone to developing endocrine problems, including diabetes and renal disease.
The authors explain that understanding the fundamental sex differences underlying the clinical manifestations, disease progression, and health outcomes of COVID-19 is essential for the identification and rational design of effective therapies and public health interventions that are inclusive of and sensitive to the potential differential treatment needs of both sexes.
Differences in immune system function between men and females may be a significant factor in determining sex differences in extended COVID syndrome. Females generate more rapid and potent innate and adaptive immune responses, which may shield them from the severity of acute illness. This difference, however, may make females more vulnerable to autoimmunity-related disorders that last longer.
As part of the review, researchers limited their search for scholarly articles to those published between December 2019 and August 2020 for COVID-19 and between January 2020 and June 2021 for long-term COVID syndrome. The overall sample size for all publications evaluated was 1,393,355 distinct people.
Even though there were a lot of participants, only 35 of the 640,634 articles gave enough information about the symptoms and effects of COVID-19 illness by gender to understand how girls and boys experience the illness differently.
Findings indicate that female patients were significantly more likely to have mental problems such as sadness, ear, nose, and throat symptoms, musculoskeletal discomfort, and respiratory symptoms at the outset of COVID-19. On the other hand, men were more likely to have kidney diseases called renal diseases.
The authors remark that this literature review is one of the few that breaks down by sex the particular health issues associated with COVID-related disease. Numerous studies have investigated gender disparities in hospitalization, ICU admission, respiratory support, and death. When it comes to sex, however, studies on the exact diseases induced by the virus and its long-term harm to the body have been inadequate.
The authors note that during earlier coronavirus epidemics, sex variations in outcomes have been recorded. Therefore, disparities in SARS-CoV-2 infection outcomes between men and women may have been predicted. Unfortunately, the vast majority of studies did not examine or report granular data by sex, limiting sex-specific clinical insights that may influence therapy. ” Even if it wasn’t the main goal of the researcher, sex-disaggregated data should be made public so that other researchers can use it to look into differences between the sexes that are important.
The research also identifies complicated aspects deserving of further investigation. Notably, women are more likely to be exposed to the virus in particular occupations, such as nursing and teaching. There may also be differences in who can get care based on gender, which could change how the disease naturally progresses and cause more problems and side effects.
The latter acts as a rallying cry: availability of sex-disaggregated data and deliberate analysis are necessary if we are to guarantee that unequal disease course outcomes are addressed. No study is complete until the data is made accessible to anyone who wants to answer the question, “Do sex and gender matter?”