Man flu is a phrase that refers to the idea that men, when they have a cold, exaggerate and claim they have the flu. While a commonly-used phrase in much of the English speaking world, there is a continuing discussion over the scientific basis.
A web-based survey of readers of Nuts magazine in late 2006 stirred interest in this notion, which was criticised as unscientific and unreliable. It has been suggested that such exaggeration is possibly just as prevalent in women. This condition can only truly be called "man flu" when the sufferer in question has a partner from whom he hopes to solicit extra attention to care for his supposedly grievous symptoms. When the sufferer is alone then the condition can only be the common cold or flu. Regardless of any scientific basis, the idea behind man flu has been present in UK popular culture, and has even been the source of controversy when used in advertising.
A study published in 2009 was reported by The Daily Telegraph as supporting the concept that "man flu" does not exist, but many believe that the media were misunderstanding or misrepresenting the science. The study had nothing to do with the flu (the experiment was related to bacterial, not viral, infection) and was performed on genetically modified mice rather than human beings, so the results are not necessarily applicable to humans.
A 2010 survey by the Office for National Statistics reported on by the BBC World Service suggested that women call in sick twice as often as men do. However, absence from work is not always related to a woman's illness as women are ten times more likely than men to stay at home to care for sick children, and more likely to be caring for elderly relatives.
According to researchers at Cambridge University, evolutionary factors may have led women to develop more rigorous immune systems than men due to differing reproductive strategies. In addition, a 2011 study conducted at the University of Queensland suggests that female hormones (such as oestrogens) aid pre-menopausal women in fighting infections, but the protection is lost after menopause.
Recent medical review
In the Christmas edition of The BMJ, a review of existing research found some evidence to indicate that men were more frequently hospitalized and had higher influenza-related death rates than women. Also, that the underlying cause could be evolutionary hormonal gender-differences affecting the immune system.
Further, the study points out that while "man flu" is known worldwide, no research has been conducted to specifically define the phenomenon — a situation which could lead to males receiving less medical attention than their condition actually merits.
The BMJ Christmas article is written in a light-hearted way in keeping with the traditions of its Christmas edition but the science is real. An obvious spoof article in the same edition of the journal questioned whether the children's television cartoon Peppa Pig was responsible for inappropriate use of primary care resources and called into question Dr Brown Bear's Fitness to Practice.
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- Carroll, Melanie L; Yerkovich, Stephanie T; Pritchard, Antonia L; Davies, Janet M; Upham, John W (2010). "Adaptive immunity to rhinoviruses: Sex and age matter". Respiratory Research. 11: 184. doi:10.1186/1465-9921-11-184. PMC . PMID 21194432.
- Sue, Kyle (2017). "The science behind 'man flu'". BMJ. 359: j5560. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5560. PMID 29229663.
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- Bell, Catherine (2017). "Does Peppa Pig encourage inappropriate use of primary care resources?". BMJ. 359: j5397. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5397. PMID 29229662.