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Could man flu be real?

Man Flu has long plagued the relationship between the sexes. According to women, men exaggerate the symptoms of a routine cold – while females with the same infection simply soldier on. But is there any evidence to suggest that men really do suffer more than women?

WHO Report

In 2010 the World Health Organisation published a report which revealed that during seasonal flare-ups of influenza, men are admitted to hospital more frequently than women. Could this be because their symptoms are more severe?

Unfortunately the conclusions are not so simple – there could be many different factors behind this fact. It’s possible that men are more likely to put off going to the doctor until they’re so sick they have to be hospitalized. Men are also more likely to be smokers. So is there any more convincing evidence that women are somehow better at fighting off the flu than men?

Laboratory Studies

To try to find some answers, scientists have run experiments with animals who, to our knowlege, can’t fake being ill. They discovered that when they gave male and female mice the same dose of the same strain of flu virus, the females showed a stronger immune response.

Further studies using human cells revealed that the female hormone oestrogen seems to be associated with a stronger immune response, whereas the male hormone testosterone seems, conversely, to lower it. But is any of this enough to prove that man flu is real?


Ultimately it’s difficult to take the results from laboratory studies in animals or cells and draw convincing conclusions about humans, or to prove whether men really do experience worse symptoms when faced with infection. The notion of ‘man flu’ – one way or another – may be with us for some time to come.