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The man flu might actually be a thing — and not just a joke

Man flu is real, a Canadian researcher insists. Men really do suffer more.
by Linda Carroll /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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If you’re a woman, you know all about “man flu.” At the first sniffle or two, your guy starts to look downcast and lethargic. You know from past experience, he’s soon going to be sacked out on the couch for the next week or two, hoping you’ll be there waiting on him as if he’s on death’s door.

Men have always insisted that they really do get sicker. And now, they have a champion, a man who says science backs them up. Canadian researcher Dr. Kyle Sue, tired of hearing men’s complaints derided as exaggeration, decided to take a tour of the medical literature to see if there was any evidence to show that men actually do suffer more than women when they get the flu. His findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

It can all be explained by hormones, suggested Sue, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Newfoundland.

Based on animal studies, Sue argues that estrogen boosts the immune system, presumably making females of all sorts more resilient in the face of viruses.

To back up his point, he cited a study which found that cells from pre-menopausal women had a stronger response to the cold virus than those from men, while cells from post-menopausal women had responses comparable to those of men.

As an exclamation point on that argument, Sue pointed to a study that looked at deaths related to the flu. That study, he said, shows that among men and women of the same age, men were more likely to die from the flu than women.

In actuality, while the study does indeed find that to be true, it’s only for men and women over the age of 50. And for many females of the species, that is when estrogen levels start to plummet and menopause begins. So much for the estrogen theory.

Sue’s conclusion is that since he’s proven men have a tougher time, “the concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust.”

Instead of mocking men, he made this suggestion to the BMJ: “Perhaps now is the time for male-friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.”

It’s entirely possible that the BMJ published the article as part of their annual spoof of evidence-based medicine, said Dr. Tara Vijayan, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

That said, Vijayan asserted that she’s never noticed any difference between the level of symptoms experienced by men and women. The main difference is that women, more than men, often don’t have the luxury of settling into a comfortable chair to watch TV while recuperating.

“As much as partners are evolving in the right direction and men are starting to take on more of a role in family affairs, I think the burden still rests on the female partner,” Vijayan said. “That’s an absolute reality though I think there is momentum for change.”

Dr. Michael Ison suspected that a person’s response to the flu depends on what they’ve experienced beforehand.

“If men had to give birth they wouldn’t survive very well,” said Ison, a professor in the division of infectious disease and organ transplantation at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Let's hope that Vijayan is right and it's all in good fun. We can take a joke, right?

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