Sex differences in susceptibility, severity, and outcomes of coronavirus disease 2019: Cross-sectional analysis from a diverse US metropolitan area

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 13;16(1):e0245556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245556. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Sex is increasingly recognized as an important factor in the epidemiology and outcome of many diseases. This also appears to hold for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Evidence from China and Europe has suggested that mortality from COVID-19 infection is higher in men than women, but evidence from US populations is lacking. Utilizing data from a large healthcare provider, we determined if males, as compared to females have a higher likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility, and if among the hospitalized COVID-19 patients, male sex is independently associated with COVID-19 severity and poor in-hospital outcomes.

Methods and findings: Using the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) guidelines, we conducted a cross-sectional analysis of data from a COVID-19 Surveillance and Outcomes Registry (CURATOR). Data were extracted from Electronic Medical Records (EMR). A total of 96,473 individuals tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA in nasopharyngeal swab specimens via Polymerized Chain Reaction (PCR) tests were included. For hospital-based analyses, all patients admitted during the same time-period were included. Of the 96,473 patients tested, 14,992 (15.6%) tested positive, of whom 4,785 (31.9%) were hospitalized and 452 (9.5%) died. Among all patients tested, men were significantly older. The overall SARS-CoV-2 positivity among all tested individuals was 15.5%, and was higher in males as compared to females 17.0% vs. 14.6% [OR 1.20]. This sex difference held after adjusting for age, race, ethnicity, marital status, insurance type, median income, BMI, smoking and 17 comorbidities included in Charlson Comorbidity Index (CCI) [aOR 1.39]. A higher proportion of males (vs. females) experienced pulmonary (ARDS, hypoxic respiratory failure) and extra-pulmonary (acute renal injury) complications during their hospital course. After adjustment, length of stay (LOS), need for mechanical ventilation, and in-hospital mortality were significantly higher in males as compared to females.

Conclusions: In this analysis of a large US cohort, males were more likely to test positive for COVID-19. In hospitalized patients, males were more likely to have complications, require ICU admission and mechanical ventilation, and had higher mortality than females, independent of age. Sex disparities in COVID-19 vulnerability are present, and emphasize the importance of examining sex-disaggregated data to improve our understanding of the biological processes involved to potentially tailor treatment and risk stratify patients.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Cities / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.