The novel coronavirus that has infected more than 236,000 people worldwide and left more than 9,700 dead appears to be taking a much larger toll on men than women.

In Italy, which is the second hardest hit country behind China, men make up almost 60 percent of confirmed cases of the virus and more than 70 percent of those who have died, according to the country’s main public health research agency.

More than 41,000 infections have been confirmed in Italy, with more than 3,400 deaths.

Similar reports have come out of China, where the virus is believed to have originated. Data from China’s Center for Disease Control (CCDC) showed nearly 64 percent of deaths in tens of thousands of cases were male, compared to 36 percent that were female. Meanwhile, in South Korea where 61 percent of confirmed infections have been in women, 54 percent of fatalities were made up of men, according to The Washington Post.

Scientists say there could be a number of factors contributing to why men may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new novel coronavirus. Some are biological — for example, women have a stronger immune response to viral infections particularly of the respiratory tract.

During the SARS outbreak, more men were infected than women, and researchers at the University of Iowa carried out a study on mice that found male mice were more susceptible to the virus than females. Researchers attributed the results to hormones like estrogen.

Men in Italy, China and Korea are also more likely to smoke and drink and have a lower life expectancy than women. Men in these countries die more frequently from respiratory disease, heart disease and other illnesses thought to complicate coronavirus infections, according to The Washington Post.

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