Gender roles and the coronavirus: Why women may have higher risk of catching COVID-19

Some health experts are worried that the coronavirus pandemic may present a higher risk for women due to the gender roles they play in society, according to The New York Times.

In a March 12 "In Her Words" report for The NYT, author Alisha Haridasani Gupta cited a 2007 World Health Organization analysis that deemed typical gender roles can "influence where men and women spend their time, and the infectious agents they come into contact with, as well as the nature of exposure, its frequency and its intensity."

Some early studies of coronavirus cases have, however, found that COVID-19 is deadlier for infected men than women, with a 2.8 percent fatality rate for men versus 1.7 percent for women.

While women make up the majority of the global healthcare workforce, most of them serve as nurses working on the frontlines to treat and contain disease outbreaks. In the U.S., about 78 percent of healthcare workers are women; and in the Hubei Province of China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, 90 percent of healthcare workers are women, according to the report.

Compared to physicians, nurses have higher levels of exposure to diseases, said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and clinical assistant professor at New York University, according to the publication. "They're much more involved in intimate care of patients," Dr. Gounder said. "They're the ones drawing blood, they're the ones collecting specimens."

More than half of the estimated 8,000 probable SARS cases globally in the early 2000s were of women, with about 21 percent of total cases among healthcare workers, according to WHO, the publication reports.

Women are also more likely to care for family members in the home, particularly if an individual is sick, Dr. Gounder said. During the Ebola outbreaks in Africa from 1976 to 2014, womens' vulnerability to the disease increased as they are the traditional primary caregivers who are responsible for preparing bodies for burial, according to a 2017 Infectious Diseases of Poverty study.

The disease transmission rates were "higher in households than in hospitals," according to the report. There is no evidence of a biological gender gap in regards to Ebola vulnerability, but "more cases were reported among women than men" during the outbreak in 2014.

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