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Have You Heard the One About ‘Man Flu’?

Posted by Michelle Udayamurthy, M.D. on Mar 24, 2018 8:26:00 AM

Although there are several strains of the flu virus, for many people there are only two that matter: the flu and the “man flu.” It’s a stigma that persists, that while women might be up and moving around with the flu, managing a household albeit achy and sick, men are down for the count. 

So Man Flu Might Be Real?

For years, the term “man flu” has marginalized the way some men act when they get ill, suggesting that there’s some exaggeration coming from the male camp when it comes to sickness. But a recent study indicates men do experience the flu differently for a completely biological reason. The study found that men’s physiological response to respiratory viruses is weaker than that of their female counterparts. Not only that, but morbidity and mortality rates for men with respiratory viruses were higher than those rates in women. So far, the research points to man flu being an actual occurrence instead of the pejorative term that it was likely created to be.

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The Secret Could Be Estrogen

While the reason women have a stronger response to respiratory viruses isn’t entirely clear, it seems linked to estrogen. One study introduced male and female nasal cells to estrogen in a lab dish followed by researchers infecting the cells with the virus. The result was that the estrogen reduced the levels of the flu virus in the cells from female donors, but not male donors. Similarly, after vaccination, women tend to develop better antibodies, and if they get the flu, take less time to get over the illness. 

What Does This Mean?

Unfortunately, it likely means that men will need to take more time to get over the flu than their female partners at home – and that’s almost all you can do when you get the flu. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, do what you can to reduce fever and chills, and keep the air humid to avoid dryness in your throat. 

It also means that men need to take extra precaution to avoid the flu. Be sure to get vaccinated. Practice good hand washing behavior, and do whatever you can to avoid other people who might have the flu – and that’s good advice whether you’re male or female! 

What do you think? Is "man flu" real? Leave your comment!



Dr. Michelle Udayamurthy is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold. She cares for her patients at the Spencer R. Berthelsen, M.D., Main Campus. She views the doctor-patient relationship as one of the most important parts of healthcare. Her clinical interest is preventive medicine. 


Topics: Flu shot, influenza, flu, too much sitting, man flu


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