Girl power? Why a Duke study says women can better fight COVID-19

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Women may be better at fighting off COVID-19 than men because of the way their immune systems are built.

This is according to the latest findings from researchers at Duke and UNC.

They’ve found women have more of a specific kind of infection-fighting white blood cells known as MAIT cells, mucosal-associated invariant T-cell.

These cells gather in the nose, eyes, mouth, and lungs for women- all places known to be COVID-19 infection points. Previous studies showed these cells were protective against viruses.

Researchers found that as soon as women got infected with COVID-19, the number of those cells seemed to drop.

They found those cells were moving from the blood into tissues to fight a COVID-19 infection.

“There was a drop in MAIT cells from health to infection in the blood. And there was an increase, in infection, in numbers of MAIT cells in the lung,” Saban said.

Saba said the number of those cells was lower in men. Saban said their numbers didn’t drop as much for them after a COVID-19 infection because they were already much lower.

“Males had much lower numbers and on top of that, the profile of those cells looked very frail, and stresses and on its way to die,” Saban explained.

Saban said other studies around the world have come to the same conclusion.

Researchers say it could explain why men are twice as likely as women to experience severe symptoms.

“I think its important to understand those differences so we can treat a patient better,” Saban said. The professor added that the more we know about this virus, the less fearful we can be about it.

“If we need to continue to advance things like therapeutics, not just vaccines, these are the potential pieces of information that can be utilized to do so,” he said.

Looking ahead, Saban said these could help address future viruses.

“Coronaviruses, in general, seem to have a higher susceptibility in men. We saw that in MERS and we saw it in SARSCoV1. And so, if there’s a future coronavirus, maybe now we’ll have even more information to be equipped for that,” Saban said.

In the meantime, Saban said everyone should continue to follow the same safety precautions regardless of gender.

“This in no way means men should be hiding, versus women should be outside. It’s just explaining how our immune systems are handling the virus,” said Saban.

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