Coronavirus protection: Babies who breastfeed ‘better defended against outbreak’

The stronger immune response towards the coronavirus pathogens in females is suspected, among other things, to be an evolutionary survival advantage for the offspring who spend more time with their mothers. Studies have found that babies also get the defences contained in breast milk and thus have better protection against diseases. Breastfeeding remains a mainstay of prevention for numerous diseases and its protective role increases with duration.

However, being breastfed when mothers carry a respiratory infection may increase the risk of transmission, acting as a proxy for closer contacts.

A recent report suggested that oestrogen and the fact that women have a second X chromosome could also play a role in the decreased mortality rate for females.

Laboratory tests on mice infected with SARS showed that female mice died more quickly when oestrogen production was interrupted or their ovaries removed.

In male mice, on the other hand, it didn’t matter if testosterone production was blocked.

Researcher Sabra Klein of the Johns Hopkins University explained in the New York Times: “We have already seen this which many respiratory viral infections that men are worse affected”.

Although the number of infected women and men is balanced, researchers have found that the mortality rate as a result of the disease is significantly higher in men.

In men it is 2.8 percent, but only 1.7 percent in women.

The immune system of women can keep the viruses in check much better.

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In addition, the immune response to vaccinations is stronger in women than in men, as is the immune memory, which protects against renewed infections.

But this better-functioning immune system also has a dark side, explains Janine Clayton from the US Institute of National Health in the New York Times.

Precisely because the immune system reacts so strongly in many cases, women would also suffer from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus much more often.

In the study that revealed more men dying of the illness than women researchers did not rule out other factors.

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Awareness of a healthy lifestyle in different cultures also plays a role when it comes to how seriously ill someone is.

For instance, smokers are also much more susceptible.

For example, China has the highest number of smokers worldwide who are responsible for 40 percent of tobacco consumption worldwide – only two percent of them are women.

Chinese men are also much more often affected by type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which can worsen the course of the disease in the case of a corona infection.

Studies have also shown that men often only come to the hospital after the disease has progressed too far.

Since early diagnosis is particularly important in older men, this behaviour increases their mortality rate.

The coronavirus is spreading rapidly.

Newly infected people are constantly being reported in Italy.

Meanwhile, new cases are known in Austria and Germany.

Worldwide, over 2,700 people have died.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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