Irony of a stronger immune system: Why women are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus — yet more likely to get ‘long COVID’

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Credit: Supamotion/Shutterstock
Credit: Supamotion/Shutterstock

There are many ways in which Covid-19’s effect on women may differ from its effect on men. Overall, women resist viral and bacterial infections more effectively than men. They die less during a pandemic. They live longer than men. But a stronger immune system comes at a price. Women have a higher lifetime risk of inflammatory immune conditions such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue and autoimmune disease. If you look in the waiting room of a health practitioner who cares for people with long-term pain conditions, most of their patients will be female.

Repeated stimulation of the immune system predisposes to chronic pain conditions, and infection with Covid-19 presents a major immune stimulus.

Whether Covid-19 infection will worsen pre-existing immune-based symptoms in women, even if their Covid-19 infection was mild, is yet to be determined.

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Women make up 67% of the frontline, global healthcare workforce in their roles as doctors, nurses, teachers, childcare workers, aged-care workers and cleaners, and our community relies on their wellbeing. As such, they are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus than women in the general community, and may present a large group of humans with specific and important Covid-19 needs.

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