Moaning men complaining they have "man flu" – a much more serious and, if sufferers are to be believed, potentially deadly version of the common cold – may actually have a point.
Canadian academic Kyle Sue investigated whether men are wimps or just immunologically inferior, in an article published in the British Medical Journal.
Despite the derisive Oxford dictionary definition of it as "a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms," he found there is some truth behind the claims.
Sue, a clinical assistant professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, set out to determine whether men really experience worse symptoms than women and whether this could have any evolutionary basis.
He found some evidence that adult men have a higher risk of hospital admission and have higher rates of influenza-associated deaths compared with women in the same age groups, regardless of underlying disease.
For many acute respiratory diseases, males are also more susceptible to complications and exhibit a higher mortality. And some evidence supports men suffering more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.
Sue said the research was not conclusive and further higher quality work was needed to clarify other aspects of man flu "because it remains uncertain whether viral quantities, immune response, symptoms, and recovery time can be affected by environmental conditions".
But he concluded that the concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is unfair. "Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women."
Apparently there may even be an evolutionary benefit to a less robust immune system, as it has allowed men to "invest their energy in other biological processes, such as growth, secondary sex characteristics, and reproduction".
There are benefits to energy conservation when ill, adds Sue. "Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators.
"Perhaps now is the time for male-friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort."
Hmmm, not sure their female colleagues will be convinced somehow. ®