Doctors in the U.S. are giving men the female sex hormone oestrogen to see if it helps them to survive coronavirus.
Across the world, the number of women who suffer badly from the disease is around half the number of men who show severe symptoms, and death rates are also lower.
Two hospitals are putting to the test the theory that the hormone could be protecting women in a bid to see if it boosts immune systems and decreases inflammation, thereby reducing the severity of Covid-19.
The research is being carried out by the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Long Island. Dr Sharon Nachman told the New York Times: ‘It’s totally out of the box, which is how good ideas often start.’
The study will be relatively small, with 110 patients displaying symptoms but who do not need to be intubated.
They will be split into two groups with half given a patch for a week while another half will be a control group to see if the hormone helps clear infection.
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Dr Nachman said: ‘We may not understand exactly how oestrogen works, but maybe we can see how the patient does.
‘While we see women do get infected, their responses are different. We see fewer of them having the second, disregulated immune response.’
Meanwhile at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA – where 75% of intensive care patients are men – a separate study will be started with progesterone, another sex hormone that reduces inflammation.
Dr Sara Ghandehari said: ‘There’s a striking difference between the number of men and women in the intesive care unit, and men are clearly doing worse.
‘So something about being a woman is protective, and something about pregnancy is protective, and that makes us think about hormones.’
The LA study will involve 40 men who have tested positive for coronavirus and have mild to moderate symptoms.
Again, the group will be split in two, with 20 given progesterone and the other half being a control group.
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