While the study by researchers at the Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria, found that women tend to recover more quickly than men, the latter group does not experience worse symptoms when sick.
Instead, the small-scale study found that men’s flu symptoms were milder than average when compared with women.
Published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the scientists studied flu-like symptoms in more than 100 patients, both men and women. Of those involved, more than half (56 per cent) were female and the average age across the cohort was about 41.
The aim was to “evaluate the popular concept of ‘man flu’”, which was described as the “supposedly subjective hypersensitivity” of flu-like symptoms in men.
The study found “no significant gender difference” between men and women who suffered from symptoms such as runny noses, headaches, chills or lack of sleep.
However, the researchers posited that women may recover more quickly due to the “interaction of sex hormones within the immune system”.
They wrote: “Women have been reported to have enhanced capability of producing antibodies which increases immune activity and thus a faster and more effective resistance to infections.”
The study’s authors said they expected to find that the “myth of ‘man flu’ might actually be true”, but noted that other studies have shown that men “are more likely to receive a more thorough examination and treatment than women with the same severity of symptoms”.
They pointed to a 2019 study in Denmark, which involved the whole population, that showed almost three out of four diseases were diagnosed in women later than in men.
The hypothesis of “man flu” should be “disregarded” based on these results, the researchers said.
Some of the limitations in the study included potential gender bias, as “both the gender of the physician as well as the gender of the patient may influence the extend of reported symptoms”. The scientists called for more research in this field.
In 2017, a Canadian study found evidence that adult men are more susceptible to complications and higher mortality from many acute respiratory diseases, suggesting that “man flu” may be a real phenomenon.
However, author Dr Kyle Sue said at the time that the term “man flu” is potentially problematic.
“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,” he explained.