Can HRT protect against COVID-19?

New data has revealed COVID-19 affects men more severely than women. This has led doctors to consider how this information can be utilised in the fight against the virus – one idea is to use HRT as a potential treatment.

Men with the virus are more likely to be admitted to hospital and are more likely to die. It’s long been observed that women generally have better immune systems and live longer. As early studies were conducted in China, it was assumed that smoking also played a part. In China, over half of men smoke but only 5 per cent of women do. 

However, it’s become clear that it’s not the only reason for the stark differences between the sexes. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland around 70% of critically ill patients admitted to intensive care have been male, and a higher proportion of men than women have died. A study of more than 4000 COVID-19 patients in New York City, found that 62 per cent were male. 

Hormones and immune response

In 2016 and 2017, research into another coronavirus, SARS, at the University of Iowa, found male mice had a higher death rate from the illness. However, when the ovaries of the female mice were removed, their death rate rose to similar levels, suggesting the hormone oestrogen had offered some protection.

Two groups of scientists in the United States are now looking at whether sex hormones might boost chances of recovery. A team at The Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University on Long Island, will look at oestrogen. The trial will involve about 100 subjects, either men over the age of 18 or women over 55; oestrogen will be administered via patches. 

Progesterone is the subject of research at The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. Doctors are looking to see whether the hormone’s anti-inflammatory qualities are enabling women to fight off the virus better. 

Professor John Studd of The London PMS & Menopause Clinic commented: ‘It is possible HRT has a protective effect. Heath is often dependant on the right balance of hormones so there is some logic to this idea.’

Other factors heightening the risks from Covid-19

Age: We know the virus is more dangerous as we get older. Just 1% of people in their 20s are hospitalised because of Covid-19. For the 50-59 year age group, that figure rises to 8.2%. This more than doubles for the over 80s. Underlying health conditions and weakening immune response is likely to be to blame.

Ethnicity: Health experts have also already raised concerns that the virus affects people from black and minority ethnic groups (BAME) in a disproportionate way, noting BAME people are more likely to be in key worker roles, leaving them more exposed to infection. There is also a possibility higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, could also factor in. 

Blood group: Preliminary research has revealed that people with blood type group A have a higher risk of being infected by Covid-19 than with non-A blood groups. The study from The Southern University of Science and Technology in China also observed that blood group O has a lower risk for the infection. It’s hypothesised that this is to do with the anti-A antibodies that both type B and type O blood groups have. However, anyone can catch the virus, so it’s important not to believe being a particular blood group offers protection.

Any drug that suppresses inflammation Full medical glossary
Special proteins in the blood that are produced in response to a specific antigen and play a key role in immunity and allergy. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
A disorder caused by insufficient or absent production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas, or because the tissues are resistant to the effects. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
An organ with the ability to make and secrete certain fluids. Full medical glossary
A substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. Full medical glossary
Abbreviation for hormone replacement therapy, the administration of female hormones in cases where they are not sufficiently produced by the body. Full medical glossary
Prefix suggesting a deficiency, lack of, or small size. Full medical glossary
The organs specialised to fight infection. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary

The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods cease

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A hormone involved in female sexual development, produced by the ovaries. Full medical glossary
Female reproductive organs situated one on either side of the uterus (womb). They produce egg cells (ova) and hormones in a monthly cycle. Full medical glossary
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A microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. Full medical glossary