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This Clue May Explain Why More Men Get COVID-19 

Genetic clues shed light on the role gender plays.

Early on in the pandemic it became clear that COVID-19 does in fact, discriminate. Certain factors—including gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, and pre-existing health conditions—can increase an individual's chances of becoming infected with, suffering complications as a result, or even dying of the highly infectious virus. Gender has been an especially intriguing aspect of the virus, and researchers have been attempting to determine exactly why men are more prone to serious infection from coronavirus than women, and why some seemingly healthy young men are becoming so sick from the virus. 

A preliminary report published this week in the medical journal JAMA may offer some insight into how gender plays into the battle against the virus, with clues pointing toward genetics. 

Flaws in the Gene Make Fighting COVID Hard

The research focuses on four COVID-19 patients—two sets of brothers ages 21 to 32 from unrelated families—in the Netherlands. All of them were in good health prior to becoming infected with the virus and were checked into the intensive care unit between March 23 and April 29. One of them died, while the rest of them eventually recovered. 

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Through genetic analysis of the patients and their families, researchers identified flaws in a gene that enables cells to make molecules called interferons, which stir the immune system to fight off viruses. Researchers explain that this immunodeficiency made it difficult for the patients to fight off the coronavirus infection. 

"In this case series of 4 young men from 2 unrelated families with severe COVID-19, unique loss-of-function variants in X-chromosomal TLR7 were identified," the authors explain. 

Genetic Variations Can Make You Susceptible, They Claim

While the genetic defects were extremely rare and likely wouldn't account for other severe cases of COVID, researchers believe that their findings support a theory that genetic variations make some individuals more susceptible to the virus. 

"While rare mutations in TLR7 are unlikely to be a major driver of severe disease in most individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2, the genetic study begins to unravel the molecular underpinnings of COVID-19," one of the authors, Robert M. Plenge, MD, Ph.D., wrote in an accompanying editorial. 

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They also believe that it could explain why men are more susceptible than women, as the flawed gene was found in the X chromosome. Researchers explain that men only have one copy of the X chromosome and women have two. So, if a woman did in fact carry the genetic defect in one of her X chromosomes, the other could be normal and in turn, keep her healthy. 

Researchers hope these findings will lead to "improved diagnostics and therapeutics, including rational repurposing of existing anti-inflammatory therapies in either early infection or late-stage severe disease," Plenge writes. 

As for yourself, no matter your gender, wear your face mask, get tested if you think you have COVID-19, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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