Some viruses might cause weaker symptoms in women than in men because it makes them more likely to spread.
Many infections cause more severe illness in men than women. Men infected with tuberculosis are 1.5 times more likely to die than women; men infected with human papillomavirus are five times more likely to develop cancer than women; and men infected with Epstein-Barr virus are at least twice as likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma as women.
Many think this pattern is because of differences between the sexes’ immune systems. But another explanation is that women are more valuable hosts. Women can pass infections to their children during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, so there’s an evolutionary pressure on viruses to be less harmful to them, say Francisco Úbeda and Vincent Jansen at Royal Holloway University of London.
The study emphasizes the need to conduct clinical trials in both sexes, rather than predominantly in men as is often the case, says David Duneau, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Toulouse, France.
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