Are Women Better Than Men At Fighting Off Flu?

(CBS) — Is the flu more likely to strike certain people? Recent research says that may be true.

As CBS 2’s Erin Kennedy reports, the next time a guy you know gets the flu, you may want to show him a little more sympathy.

When it comes to getting the flu, it seems like anyone could be at risk, but according to a study from Stanford University, men might be at a particular disadvantage.

“What the study found was that in men there was a lower immune response to the influenze vaccine than there was in women,” said Dr. Michael Angarone with Northwestern Hospital.

Possibly because of testosterone, which may suppress a man’s reaction to the flu shot while other research says estrogen may give women stronger immune systems.

The infection-fighting benefits of estrogen came up in a study at Harvard where the female hormone helped mice fight pneumonia.

So are women better able to fight off respiratory infections because they have a protective advantage from estrogen?

“It makes some sense in terms of women not getting as severely ill,” said Angarone.

“Part of their role is to be nurturers,” said Dr. Jake Deutch. “They have to take care not only of themselves, but their families.”

The studies raise the question: Could estrogen be used some day to protect both men and women from the flu?

“These studies do not answer that at all and really don’t play in to that at all,” Angarone said. “That is probably years and many research studies away.”

But what about the findings that men developed fewer antibodies than women did after receiving a flu shot?

“We don’t know the meaning of that. I don’t think it answers the question that men are more likely to get infection than women,” Angarone said.

So while the idea that women are better at fighting flu is intriguing, we have a ways to go and more research to do before we know if it’s true.

The flu came early to the Chicago area this season with cases soaring in December. Things peaked earlier this month and the worst could be over, but a resurgence is possible.

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