Sex and Gender Differences in Testing, Hospital Admission, Clinical Presentation, and Drivers of Severe Outcomes from COVID-19

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Background: Males experience increased severity of illness and mortality from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) compared with females, but the mechanisms of male susceptibility are unclear. Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort analysis of SARS-CoV-2 testing and admission data at 5 hospitals in the Maryland/Washington DC area. Using age-stratified logistic regression models, we quantified the impact of male sex on the risk of the composite outcome of severe disease or death (World Health Organization score 5-8) and tested the impact of demographics, comorbidities, health behaviors, and laboratory inflammatory markers on the sex effect. Results: Among 213 175 SARS-CoV-2 tests, despite similar positivity rates, males in age strata between 18 and 74 years were more frequently hospitalized. For the 2626 hospitalized individuals, clinical inflammatory markers (interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, ferritin, absolute lymphocyte count, and neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio) were more favorable for females than males (P <. 001). Among 18-49-year-olds, male sex carried a higher risk of severe outcomes, both early (odds ratio [OR], 3.01; 95% CI, 1.75 to 5.18) and at peak illness during hospitalization (OR, 2.58; 95% CI, 1.78 to 3.74). Despite multiple differences in demographics, presentation features, comorbidities, and health behaviors, these variables did not change the association of male sex with severe disease. Only clinical inflammatory marker values modified the sex effect, reducing the OR for severe outcomes in males aged 18-49 years to 1.81 (95% CI, 1.00 to 3.26) early and 1.39 (95% CI, 0.93 to 2.08) at peak illness. Conclusions: Higher inflammatory laboratory test values were associated with increased risk of severe coronavirus disease 2019 for males. A sex-specific inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 infection may underlie the sex differences in outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberofab448
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • BMI
  • COVID-19
  • CRP
  • inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Infectious Diseases


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