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February 2020 (Vol. 4 Issue 12)

Even viruses are sexist
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Even viruses are sexist image

Are viruses sexist? They could be more aggressive in men, and kinder in women to help their survival, according to one theory at least.

It’s already known that some infections are more benign in women, but that’s been attributed to differences in the immune system. But now researchers at Royal Holloway University in London reckon that it’s the virus itself that’s different.

Using mathematical modelling, the researchers say they have reached an “intriguing” possibility that viruses are kinder and gentler in women because women have unique ways of spreading infection, such as through a child in the womb, while giving birth and breastfeeding. If the virus is too virulent and kills the host—in this case, the woman—it also prevents it from being spread to the child.

The researchers have demonstrated that, theoretically at least, the virus’s gender differences are possible. Whether that can be seen in real life is a different matter.


(Source: Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 13849)

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