Is Man Flu Real? Doctors Settle the Argument

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“Man Flu” – “a condition shared by all males wherein a common illness is presented by the patient as life threatening. Also known as chronic exaggeration” – has been the punch line of jokes for some time. While it may seem comical, a recent study suggests that man flu may be real.

In a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, significant gender differences were found when male and female mice were infected with the influenza virus. Male’s body temperatures dropped lower than females at the onset of infection, and they also incurred more inflammation. It has been suggested that estrogen levels play a role in these differences, specifically how the virus replicates. While this study seems to explain a commonly-held belief, it is just one piece of research so we asked doctors from around the world:

Are there differences in how men and women experience the flu?

Out of the 1136 physicians from 42 countries who responded, 66 percent believe there are differences between how the sexes experience the flu:

 “I definitely support the theory that influenza is less tolerated by men, however I have my doubt about whether it is really because it feels worse, or because they have less tolerance to feeling sick.”  – General Practice, Venezuela

“Studies say that women make more antibodies than men. Influenza in women would be weaker because of hormones. Testosterone prevents the manufacture of antibodies.” – Psychiatry, France 

“Yes, men tell the world that they’re sick by coughing, lounging around and complaining.”  – Pediatrics, U.S.

“I really believe there is a difference in threshold of acceptance of symptoms and this could of course be hormone related. Men do experience the symptoms worse and there is no doubt in my mind that they suffer more.”  – Nephrology, Australia

“The issue of the differences of a flu between a man and a woman are not the symptoms, but the attitude they take toward it, men tend to surrender more to that general malaise and prostrate themselves in a way as if they had a terminal illness… Could it be that they feel more vulnerable emotionally during those days? Or afraid of being physically affected by the flu?” – Pediatrics, Venezuela

However, 33 percent of respondents answered “no,”:

“In the patients that I have seen I have not appreciated differences in the flu clinic between sexes. Neither in literature.” – General Practice, Spain

“I have not seen different symptoms in a flu between men and women. But if I have read several articles that describe that the Flu affects more men than women.” – Emergency Medicine, Venezuela

 The poll was fielded in November of 2017. 1136 physicians responded to the poll. The margin of error for the global poll was ±3%. More information about SERMO polling methodology can be found here.

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