The Hidden Reason Why Men Are More Likely to Die of COVID-19

As we learn more about the coronavirus, we’re also discovering who’s being hit hardest. Early stats show that men are at least 50% more likely to die from the disease than women. Continuing a conversation interrupted last week by technical difficulties, Christiane speaks with physician and author Dr. Sharon Moalem.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So, again, just give us the overall stats as you see them.

DR. SHARON MOALEM, AUTHOR, “THE BETTER HALF”: So, everywhere we`re looking essentially around the world, 60 to 70 percent of men are dying. And, well, it`s key here that there`s almost a dozen countries that we know of where more women are becoming infected, but more men are still dying. So this is really leading us to understand that there`s a basic biological fundamental difference between the sexes. And this is exactly actually what I saw as a neurogenetics researcher, at the far end of life, when there weren`t a lot of men. And when I asked my colleagues the — it always came back down to behavior. I was told men drink more, they smoke more, they take more risks, and that`s why there`s not a lot of men that make it into the far ends of life. But then, when I switched to working as a physician with premature babies, I saw the same pattern again. And that`s that boys really struggled. Females just have this survival advantage. And so, after doing a lot of research, I came to the conclusion that this is rooted in the fact that every female has two X chromosomes, and every male has only one. And so what that means is, Christiane, even you, you have two populations of cells in your body. Each one is using an X chromosome, and they`re working together with that extra genetic knowledge to really overcome all the challenges of life. And so, even though men have more muscle mass, men are physically stronger, they`re actually more fragile.


AMANPOUR: So, obviously, I`m really pleased to hear that, being a woman and having those two X`s.


AMANPOUR: But can you just sort of explain why, to those of us who just may not understand, what is it that the two X`s do…


AMANPOUR: … other than being two, instead of one?

MOALEM: So, for many years, we thought that the X, the extra X chromosome, is — it`s like an extra pair, almost like a spare tire that women have, genetically speaking, that it really just helped them. Whenever there was a problem with one X, they would rely on another. But now we actually know that females use both of the X`s in their bodies at the same time. And, now, this is very crucial, because the X isn`t just some random chromosome. It`s actually very rich in genes that are related to the immune system. One gene specifically, TLR7, is a gene that recognizes single stranded RNA viruses, just like the coronavirus that`s the pandemic that we`re experiencing right now. So, practically speaking, what this means, in your body, you have two immune cells that are using two different TLR7 genes to recognize the virus. So you have a big advantage there, because, not only can you recognize it. You can then have on the other X a better gene to kill it. On the other hand, all my immune cells are using the exact same X. So I just have to hope that I have an X that`s good enough not just to recognize the virus, but to kill it as well.

About This Episode EXPAND

Amid organized anti-lockdown protests in the United States, Christiane speaks with Senator Chris Murphy. The UK’s former Health Minister discusses Boris Johnson’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. John B. King, former U.S. Secretary of Education, joins Hari to discuss the downfalls of distance learning. Dr. Sharon Moalem explains why men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women.