Winter may be over soon, but Man Flu is an ever-prevalent danger, thinning out our ranks at an alarming rate, regardless of the season. With little to no understanding from our life partners, it’s amazing how we manage to live through it.

The first thing we need to isolate is why we, who are blessed with the Y chromosome, are so afflicted and our better halves manage to escape relatively unscathed. Are we as wimpy as they claim we are? Are we immunologically inferior? Or is it a great conspiracy of studies written by women to make us appear that way?

Sick of being accused of overreacting to everything, I searched the Interweb to see if we do indeed suffer worse symptoms than our genetically superior yet emotionally bereft loved ones. And to see if Man Flu really does exist.

The cold, hard facts (and some alternative ones).

Now, Man Flu is a term so ubiquitous that it has been included in the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries. Oxford defines Man Flu as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.” And if it’s in the dictionary, it’s gotta be real… right?

Let’s dig deeper. Now, as you may or may not know, influenza is a viral infection, caused by influenza virus types A, B or C. According to some research, men suffer more with coughs and colds because they have extra temperature receptors in the brain and therefore experience worse symptoms. However, many women claim that this theory is yet to be definitively proven. Go figure.

Love Manflu meme

Evolution could play a part in this drama, too. Some scholars have suggested that early man evolved to require more prolonged rest while sick to conserve energy and avoid predators. Others contend that higher testosterone levels could prove advantageous to men when competing against other males, outweighing the potentially negative impact on the immune system. Or perhaps these afflictions kept our male ancestors safe in their primitive man caves and were thus less likely to be mauled by predators. Either way, we survived somehow. And, so did Man Flu.

Thankfully, a real science guy maintains there’s some real science to this. Robert. H Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, believes that men actually experience respiratory viral illnesses differently than women; as there is precedent for this in other conditions. Pain due to coronary artery disease (as with a heart attack or angina) is a good example. Men tend to have “classic” crushing chest pain, while women are more likely to have “atypical” symptoms such as nausea or shortness of breath. Perhaps the behavior of men with the flu is actually appropriate (and not exaggerated) and based on how the disease affects them.

However, some of the finest paid ‘scientists’ in the tabloid industry beg to differ and contend that Man Flu does not exist, rather believing that we are misunderstanding or misrepresenting the science. It’s important to note that 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. In conclusion, mice are not men, regardless if we’re afraid of them or not.

Men have an excuse. Women have a better one.

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. Men are… well… caring for themselves.

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 oestrogen) aid pre-menopausal women in fighting infections, but the protection is lost after menopause.

Sympathy is the greatest cure. 

Burning up

Whether Man Flu exists or not, it feels real. And therefore, it is real. But you have to be smart about how you manage it. Because it can backfire if you’re not careful.

So, the next time you’re knocking on death’s proverbial door with a sniffle that just won’t cease, don’t conjure up a pathetic ‘sick voice’ to your partner or complain about infinite aches and pains that seem to magically move around your body. Because brother, they’ve been through childbirth. And there’s absolutely nothing you do to compete with that.

In the case of this rare disease, the less said, the better. Simply practice your best sad puppy dog eyes in the mirror. Eyes are the windows to the soul, after all. And when you open up those proverbial windows, they can see and feel your silent suffering. You might get a nice hug, a hot cuppa tea and an afternoon of solace with Netflix. And that always makes everything better.

What are your secrets for garnering sympathy for your Man Flu? What worked? What didn’t?