“They call me Mr. Pitiful,” went the first line of a 1966 song by Otis Redding.
Redding was singing about lost love, but he might just as well have been referring to men with the flu, who have long been accused of being wimps and crybabies when struck by the loathsome bug.
But it turns out, according to a researcher, that men may be moaning and groaning so much because they actually are affected more severely by influenza.
A Canadian doctor, Dr. Kyle Sue, writing in the British Medical Journal, said that “man flu” may come down to physiological differences between men and women. “So it makes sense that we could differ in our responses to cold and flu viruses as well," he added.
“I do think that the research does point towards men having a weaker immune response when it comes to common viral respiratory infections and the flu,” Sue told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “This is shown in the fact that they [have] worse symptoms, they last longer, they are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die from it.”
To compare how flu symptoms manifest among both women and men, Sue reviewed a number of studies involving both animals and humans.
A study from Hong Kong, Sue wrote, suggested that when the flu strikes, adult men face a greater risk for being admitted to the hospital than their female peers. Another study, in America, also found that men seem to face a higher risk for actually dying from the flu than women.
Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, told the Guardian that the higher testosterone levels in men might be behind the phenomenon because of possible effects on the immune system.
He also pointed to possible evolutionary factors. “Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionary behaviors that once protected against predators.
“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,” joked Sue, adding that more studies need to be done before "man flu" can be a firm diagnosis.
Meanwhile, he told the paper, “I am hopeful that next time men are being criticized as exaggerating their symptoms they can say ‘hey, look at this study, there is some proof that I am not!’”