Webinar Recap: Sex & Gender Differences in the COVID-19 Pandemic

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This last Thursday 16 April, the Women’s Brain Project offered a free webinar on sex and gender differences in the COVID-19 Pandemic. After an introduction by WBP Co-founder and CEO, Dr. Antonella Santuccione Chadha, four speakers gave a brief overview of their respective topics:

COVID-19 Data from China: Dr. Ewelina Biskup, WBP Executive Committee Member and Associate Professor at the Shanghai University of Medicine and Science reported on the first evidence for sex differences in the Chinese cohort

COVID-19 Data from Italy: Dr. Maria Teresa Ferretti, WBP Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, explained how Italian data confirmed and expanded the observations made in China

COVID-19 Data from Spain: Dr. Floriencia Iulita, Alzheimer-Down Unit, Memory Unit, Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona, illustrated further sex-stratification of data in the Spanish cohort

Psychological impact of COVID-19: Dr. Annemarie Schumacher Dimech, WBP Co-founder and President, Health psychologist (FSP), University of Lucerne, explained the role gender can have on psychological consequences of COVID-19.

Webinar visual: Part of the COVID-19 data from Spain presented by Dr. Floriencia Iulita, Executive Committee Member of the Women’s Brain Project

The bulk of the webinar was then opened up to a question and answer session. Some of the questions addressed include:

  1. What are potential biological reasons for the male bias?
  2. Was there a similar sex difference in MERS and SARS?
  3. Is there a role for gender-dictated hygienic standards?

Several interesting questions could not be answered live. Here below our favourite 10, which we will answer in the upcoming weeks.

Q1. What will be the implication of oral contraceptive usage especially the (new) 3rd generation types such as drospirenone during and after the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the global economy as a treatment in association with disease of civilization such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), and depression due to inactivity?

Q2. How come there is such a huge difference, and why is the number of not hospitalized women so large? (Also, how is it calculated?)

Q3. Since the coronavirus attacks haemoglobin, is there any data on risk in anaemic individuals? Women have a higher prevalence of anaemia.

Q4. There are some publications which cite vaccination for tuberculosis (TB) as possibly being correlated to more resistance to COVID, suggesting a potential link between universal BCG (BCG: An effective immunization against tuberculosis. BCG stands for Bacille Calmette Guerin) and reduced morbidity… Have you seen any support for such a theory?

Q5. There has been some discussion about neurological symptoms of some COVID-19 patients — is there any data on sex and gender differences in who is likely to experience these?

Q6. Any ideas why the higher prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 in women, and is this consistent with other viral infections such as the flu?

Q7. Beyond the age and gender stratifications, what about other demographic dimensions that have statistically significant differences?

Q8. Not really sure what’s the big question here: I’m not a scientist like you but don’t males tend to die younger because of life style, such as smoking, stress, etc.? If so, and this illness mainly kills older people, meaning – a stage in life when males have more background illness, then isn’t it normal that men will die more? In the healthcare system, if 70% of workers are women, then what is left to explain? I’m wondering if we are not dealing with a marginal issue here rather than other more interesting issues (in my opinion), such as: How come people without symptoms can infect others? How long can the virus survive outside the body? What’s the practical way of living with this virus without a lockdown on the world with such damage on our economies and lives? Why is the gender issue anywhere in the league of other, “bigger” issues?

Q9. Do you have an evidence of how many (%) men and women are vaccinated against Pneumococci in Italy and Spain, and whether this in any way has a potential effect on being more resistant to COVID-19?

Q10. Do you know if data exists on the number of asymptomatic patients, and recovered patients disaggregated by sex? In addition to cases, hospitalizations, and mortality?

Although the webinar was offered via Zoom, it was also streamed live on YouTube. You can view the full webinar recording by clicking on the video below:

We welcome any further questions or comments in the comment section below, and will continue sharing data, insights, and relevant content related to sex and gender differences in COVID-19 – including answers to some of the questions above.

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