Variety

Women are more vulnerable to Covid-19 in India: Report

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on June 22, 2020 Published on June 22, 2020

According to global data, out of the 56 countries (including India) around 48 of them show that more men are getting infected with virus. It further disclosed that more men are dying from Covid-19 than women around the world.

Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex differences in viral infections at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says "being male is as much a risk factor for the coronavirus as being old".

However, a recent report published by the BBC claimed otherwise for India.

New research by a group of scientists in India and the US shows that although men make up the majority of infections, women face a higher risk of dying from the coronavirus than men.

The study, based on Covid-19 deaths in India until May 20, shows early estimates that 3.3 per cent of all women contracting the infection were dying compared to 2.9 per cent of all men. India had a fatality rate of 3.1 per cent when the study was conducted, reported by the BBC.

In the 40-49 age group, 3.2 per cent of the infected women have died, compared to 2.1 per cent of men. Only females have died in the 5-19 age group.

According to SV Subramanian, a professor of population health at Harvard University and one of the leader authors of the study, two set of metrics conflated to find the rate - mortality risk and mortality burden. Mortality risk measures the probability of death in a specific group- in this case, the total number of deaths of women divided by confirmed infections among women.

On the other hand, the mortality burden gives you the number of deaths among women as a percentage share of the total deaths, both men and women.

Subramanian says that for the large part, the statistics have looked at the latter - men having a greater share of total deaths (63 per cent in India, hewing to international data) - but "inferred the former risk."

"Our overall conclusion is that, when infected, women do not seem to have any specific survival advantage [in India]," says Subramanian.

"How much of this can be attributable to biological factors and how much of this is associated with social factors is unclear. Gender can be a critical factor in Indian settings," he told BBC.

But the findings in India stood juxtaposed to the majority of the countries in the world.

Results on Men

However, men are more likely to suffer from co-morbidities, including cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, says Kunihiro Matsushita, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Men also smoke more than women in many countries, and some studies have shown that men wash their hands less frequently than women.

Scientists also believe that women have a lower mortality risk because of sturdier immune defenses. And have hormones like estrogen which has "beneficial effects on upper and lower airways and is associated with stimulation of the immune response to upper airway infections".

"In that regard, a higher case fatality rate in women than men in this report is certainly unique," Matsushita told BBC. But, he also suggested that the study needs to be scrutinized in the context of how Covid-19 is diagnosed in India.

The report hypothesized that in India, women outlive men, and hence, there are more older women than men. It could also be one of the reasons behind more deaths in women. Also, women in India are more likely to delay going to doctors and often self-medicate at home. So, they may get tested late.

Homemaker caregivers are also susceptible to viruses as they are undernourished, cooped up in unhygienic and ill-ventilated dwellings, and nursing the sick - died than men.

"We need to dissect the gender data to find out more about what's going on," says T Jacob John, a retired professor of virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore.

Researchers agree. "We will keep a close watch and keep updating the results," Subramanian said, BBC reported.

India has added 14,821 new cases as the infections in India rose to over 4.25 lakh. Of the 4,25,282 cases, 1,74,387 are active infections, while 2,37,196 patients have been discharged. The toll stands at 13,699.

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Published on June 22, 2020
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