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Coronavirus: Male patients with low testosterone levels more likely to die, study suggests

Scientists have yet to conclusively establish why more men are dying of Covid-19 than women

Samuel Lovett
Wednesday 13 May 2020 16:38 BST
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First patients given plasma in coronavirus treatment trial

Male coronavirus patients with low testosterone levels face a greater risk of dying from the virus, research suggests

Global death figures currently indicate that men are more likely to die from Covid-19 than women, though scientists have yet to establish why.

Now, a new study from a German hospital has shed light on the role played by testosterone, the male sex hormone, in the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf assessed the first 45 Covid-19 patients (35 men, 10 women) admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

From this group, nine men and three women died. Seven of the patients meanwhile required oxygen while 33 were placed onto ventilators.

Out of the 35 men, more than two thirds (68.6 per cent) recorded low levels of testosterone, the study said.

In contrast, over half of the female patients (60 per cent) had raised testosterone levels.

Testosterone is one of the many hormones responsible for monitoring the body’s immune response.

In men, low levels of the signalling molecule can disrupt and confuse the body’s response when fighting a pathogen. This can generate the so-called cytokine storm, a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system, which has been seen in many of those suffering from Covid-19.

It is thought that this extreme homeostatic reaction, which can lead to severe lung damage and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), is ultimately responsible for killing the sickest coronavirus patients.

Professor Gülsah Gabriel, who was involved in the research, told the Daily Mail: “Men with normal testosterone levels do not present a cytokine storm and thus are more likely to survive.”

For female coronavirus patients, the German study found that elevated testosterone levels were linked to a heightened inflammatory response.

“With SARS-CoV-2 continuing to infect humans worldwide, it was repeatedly reported that men with Covid-19 are at higher risk to develop severe and even lethal outcome compared to women, independent of age,” the scientists behind the research write in their study.

“Thus, it has become of utmost importance to understand why men are more likely to die from Covid-19 than women.”

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

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