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Does man flu exist?

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Is man flu a real thing? Do men really suffer worse cold and flu symptoms than women? It depends who you ask. There's something a bit snide rather than sympathetic about the term 'man flu'. It's usually a woman diagnosing her partner's condition - eyebrows raised - implying he's exaggerating his symptoms and acting like a total baby.

Is such scorn fair though? Some experts think there's a nugget of truth in man flu and men do actually experience worse symptoms than women. Saying that, there are other experts who say it's a made up term and there's nothing to it.

The UK's leading flu expert Professor John Oxford, emeritus professor of virology at the University of London, thinks man flu is psychological rather than physiological.

"I believe man flu exists only in the mind! And mainly in the minds of men who can be very wimpish when it comes to illnesses like flu," he says. "Women in contrast are often more down to earth and press on even when they do feel ill."

However, plenty of research has been carried out to try to establish if men and women actually have different experiences when it comes to colds and flu.

Man flu could be down to stress

Some scientists have found pressure at work could be contributing to man flu.

A 2010 study from South Korea in the journal Occupational Medicine suggested that men with stressful jobs were more likely to be laid low with cold-like symptoms.

Researchers studied more than 1,000 manual workers from 40 different companies. They found men under stress with demanding jobs were 74% more likely to take time off with a cold or sore throat than those with less pressurised jobs.

There was no such link between women taking time off for colds suggesting it could be down to females more 'stoical response'. Meaning they just get on with it. However, researchers did acknowledge that it's mainly men in South Korea who earn the money and have the more stressful jobs anyway.

So maybe women should be a bit more sympathetic about their partner's man flu if it just means they are stressed out and need looking after! Or maybe not!

Flu virus may be worse for men

The reason women tend to soldier on whereas men take to their beds may be because the infection really is worse for men.

A 2016 study in the journal Nature Communications suggested that viruses have evolved to be less harmful in women than men.

Viruses have a survival instinct and know that women are more likely to help spread the virus to other people, particularly children, so symptoms aren't as bad.

The study didn't specifically look at the flu virus so it's not really proof of man flu.

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