Newcastle researchers question manflu myth

May 7 2013


Men don’t wilt as easily as believed when they have the flu
Men are popularly maligned for wilting like cheap supermarket flowers at the first winter sniffle, however data from, Australia’s online influenza-like illness surveillance system, raises questions about the Manflu myth.

An analysis of the 2012 weekly surveillance data of more than 16,000 participants found that there was very little difference between the average duration of illness of men and women responding to the surveys. Women took an average of 3 days off normal duties with cough and fever, whereas men took an average of 2.8 days off. Among those ill enough to visit an emergency department, women took an average of 4 days off, whereas men took 3.5 days off.

The Flutracking analysis team was split over the implications of the findings – mostly along gender lines. Men may have taken the same amount of time off as women but with less severe illness, or it may be that they really don’t wilt as easily as believed. The decreased duration of illness among males with cough and fever visiting an emergency department could represent stoicism or perhaps that they were more likely to present to an emergency department with milder illness.

Where males and females do differ is in the timing of their illness throughout the influenza season. Females tended to get ill earlier in the season than males and then again just after the peak of influenza activity in mid-July. This may be explained by females providing more care of ill family members.

Dr Craig Dalton, the director of the system said there were many reasons why two people with the same viral infection might have different severity of disease including past immunity, genetics, and the dose of virus exposure.

The system has been able to track the severity of influenza around the country since 2008. It demonstrated that the 2009 pandemic influenza strain, while severe in some people, mostly led to low attack rates across the community. The 2012 influenza season was a relatively moderate influenza season but the most severe since the 2009 pandemic. is a joint project of the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Local Health District and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging. The weekly Flutracking survey takes less than 10 seconds per week, to join this crowd sourced influenza surveillance system go to 

* Dr Dalton is a Public Health Physician and a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Health, and is supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.