Q.  I heard something on the news about “Man Flu.” Really? I know is that when I have the flu I’m rarely “laid out.” I just keep taking care of the family even though I don’t feel very good. My husband on the other hand is flat out on the couch moaning and asking me to bring him hot tea and you name it. So is there anything to this besides him wanting attention?

A. The term “Man Flu” has been included in the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries with a comment to the effect that it describes “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.”

An article by Dr. Kyle Sue, clinical assistant professor in family medicine, points out that studies of influenza vaccination suggest that women are more responsive to vaccination than men. One study noted that men with higher testosterone levels had more down regulation of antibody response to vaccination, suggesting an immunosuppressive role for testosterone. In addition, males are more susceptible to complications from many acute respiratory diseases and exhibit a higher mortality. The last paragraph in the article entitled “The Science behind Man Flu” pointed out that in Dr. Sue’s opinion thee concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially 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 wrote: “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.”

Despite being more similar than different as members of the same species, there are definite differences between males and females. This may be one of them. Both are susceptible to the flu but there does appear to be some physiological differences in how their bodies respond to the virus—and it doesn’t seem to be “all in his head.”

For example:

  • The male body is not designed to handle fluid imbalances as tend to occur during female menstruation. Consequently, male muscles may ache more as the virus attacks the body. Since approximately 40% of the male body is muscle, there is a lot more tissue to “ache” when compared to the average female.
  • The Immune system appears to be carried on the X chromosome. Males typically have one X so if their immune system is not so great there is no second X that might promote a stronger system as in females.

As one woman said after she read the article, “I heard somewhere that men reportedly need about three days to recover from the flu compared with half that time for women. I suppose he’ll get some idea of how I feel when I get menstrual cramps—for three days. I guess it all comes out in the wash.”

You may want to check out the article with its supporting list of documented studies.