Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.
In January, one of the first publications on those sickened by the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, reported that three out of every four hospitalized patients were male. Data from around the world have since confirmed that men face a greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 than women and that children are largely spared. Now, scientists investigating how the virus does its deadly work have zeroed in on a possible reason: Androgens—male hormones such as testosterone—appear to boost the virus’ ability to get inside cells.
A constellation of emerging data supports this idea, including COVID-19 outcomes in men with prostate cancer and lab studies of how androgens regulate key genes. And preliminary observations from Spain suggest that a disproportionate number of men with male pattern baldness—which is linked to a powerful androgen—end up in hospitals with COVID-19. Researchers are rushing to test already approved drugs that block androgens’ effects, deploying them early in infection in hopes of slowing the virus and buying time for the immune system to beat it back.