Across Nevada, the novel coronavirus is killing more men than women.
Women make up about 52 percent of the 7,255 cases reported to state health officials, but somehow men account for about 59 percent of its 381 deaths, according to state health data as of Thursday afternoon.
The questions doctors and scientists are asking: Why?
“The answer is we don’t know, but we’re studying it,” said Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an infectious disease physician at University Medical Center. “The data has not thoroughly been analyzed at a large scale to come up with a conclusion across the board.”
To find the answer, researchers are looking at both the biological and behavioral differences between men and women.
One theory is that men are more likely than women to engage in riskier behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, Medina-Garcia said.
Another is that men are less likely to adopt protective measures recommended by the medical community and take longer to seek medical treatment when they’re sick, because they don’t want to be perceived as less masculine, said Dr. Lamont Tyler, medical director with CareNow Urgent Care in Las Vegas.
“The prevailing theory is they overall have a worse state of health,” Medina-Garcia said.
Researchers are also probing whether female sex hormones, like estrogen, strengthen a person’s immune systems. Doctors in New York and Los Angeles have treated COVID-19 patients with such hormones, The New York Times reported.
Having two X chromosomes, which contain multiple immune-related genes, is also theorized to help women mount a stronger immune response.
While it remains unknown what’s causing different outcomes in infected men and women, the effect is starkly evident.
In Clark County, men make up less than half of identified coronavirus cases, but as of Thursday they accounted for about 55 percent of hospitalizations and about 59 percent of deaths.
And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more men are dying nationwide.
Data from outbreaks in China and Italy indicate the same is happening there.
“The pattern has been confirmed that men tend to have a higher mortality rate than women,” Tyler said.
It is already widely know that the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, is taking a disproportionate toll on different demographic groups.
Adults age 65 and older are known to be the most susceptible to the disease because their immune systems have weakened over time and they have higher rates of chronic illnesses.
African Americans account for a far larger share of COVID-19 deaths than their representation in the U.S. population. In April, the Review-Journal reported COVID-19 was disproportionately killing black and Asian Clark County residents.
Doctors theorize the disparity is linked not only to untreated underlying conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, but also limited access to health services.
But the apparent gender divide is proving a tougher nut to crack.
“I don’t think you can give one or two definitive concrete reasons,” Tyler said. “We just don’t have that data at that point.”
To see how the coronavirus has impacted Nevada, go to the Review-Journal’s updating data guide.