It's a term mocking a man's ability to handle the flu, but a Canadian doctor is throwing his support behind the phenomenon that men are affected differently when they fall ill and argues it’s due to weaker immune systems.
The term "man flu" is usually applied to the concept of men exaggerating the effects of their illness and severity of symptoms. The ubiquity has even led to definitions in the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes "man flu" as "an illness such as a cold that is not serious, but that the person who has it treats as more serious, usually when this person is a man;" while the Oxford Dictionary terms it as "a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms."
Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine from Memorial University of Newfoundland wrote the article published in the British Medical Journal and told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that “man flu” is an unfairly used term.
"There's actually some evidence that suggests that men actually do experience worse symptoms, longer-lasting symptoms. They're more likely to be hospitalized or actually die from common viral respiratory infections,” he said. "It's not fair to write all men off as exaggerating their symptoms whenever they have a cold.”
The current research may suggest that hormones affect the severity of symptoms. "It looks like the higher the testosterone, the weaker the response, and the higher the estrogen, the stronger the response," he said.
But for Dr. Sue, a family physician based in Arviat, Nunavut, it wasn’t just about science, it was personal, too. He admitted he was also "tired of being accused of over-reacting" when he fell ill and argues there are broader health concerns.
"I've been told to 'man up.' But if 'manning up' means having a weaker immune system, I would probably prefer to say 'woman up,'" he said.
To start his research, Dr. Sue reviewed testing in mice claiming that female mice showed a stronger immune response to dealing with an illness.
He admitted testing on mice can be a weak source of evidence, but the findings appear to be backed up by human research.
Dr. Sue discovered that adult men had a higher risk of hospital admission in Hong Kong for seasonal influenza from 2004 to 2010, and that from 1997 to 2007 men had higher rates of influenza-associated deaths compared with women in the same age groups.
Women also respond better to vaccinations, with estrogen thought to do a better job at combating sickness.
"Studies of influenza vaccination suggest that women are more responsive to vaccination than men. This is supported by the finding that women report more local and systemic reactions to influenza vaccine than men in questionnaires," Dr. Sue wrote in his paper.
In the end, he said that the current definition of "man flu" – and its mocked status – is unjust.
"Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women," he argued.
Dr. Sue does have some tongue-in-cheek advice on how to best combat the affliction.
"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,” he wrote.
The doctor has already taken on flak for his research, despite the fact that the BMJ Christmas issue is meant to be a more humorous edition of the journal, though still featuring legitimate research.
"Some of my comments are obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek saying men need their man caves in order to recover," he told CTV News Channel. "I've gotten a lot of hate mail already.”
Important new research also highlights the supreme palliative benefits of a sofa and a tv to #ManFlu sufferers. This needs to be better understood.— Ian Smith (@FarmerGedon) 12 December 2017