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COVID-19: Bald men at higher risk of severe case, research finds

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Bald men may be at higher risk of suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms, emerging evidence suggests.  

The link is so strong that some researchers are suggesting baldness should be considered a risk factor called the “Gabrin sign,” after the first physician to die of COVID-19 in the United States, Dr. Frank Gabrin, who was bald. 

The lead author of the key study behind the association, Professor Carlos Wambier of Brown University, said, “We really think that baldness is a perfect predictor of severity.”

Since the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in January, data has shown that men are more likely to die after getting Coronavirus. In the UK, a report this week from Public Health England found that working-age males were twice as likely as females to die after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

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Until recently, scientists had been at a loss as to why this might be pointing to factors such as lifestyle, smoking and immune system differences between the sexes.

But increasingly, they believe it could be because male sex hormones like testosterone may play a part, not only in hair loss, but also in boosting Coronavirus’ ability to attack cells.

This raises the possibility that treatments suppressing these hormones, such as those used for baldness, as well as diseases like prostate cancer, could be used to slow the virus down, giving patients time to fight it off.  “We think androgens or male hormones are definitely the gateway for the virus to enter our cells,” said Wambier. 

As well as the trial being discussed, using baldness drugs in the US, a separate trial has been launched by Matthew Rettig, an oncologist at UC Los Angeles, in 200 veterans in Los Angeles, Seattle and New York, using prostate cancer drugs. 

The trials follow two small studies in Spain led by Wambier, which found that a disproportionately high number of men with male pattern baldness were admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

In one study, 79 per cent of the men suffering from COVID-19 in three Madrid hospitals were bald. The study of 122 patients, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology followed an earlier piece of work among 41 patients in Spanish hospitals, which found 71 per cent were bald. The background rate of baldness in white men of a similar age to the patients studied is between 31 and 53 per cent. A similar correlation was found in the study among smaller numbers of women with hair loss linked to androgens. 

Other scientists said more work needed to be done, but were excited by the potential link. 

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