Scientists suggest you go easy on the sniffling man in your life – he could have fallen victim to the ‘man flu’, after all.

Using a mathematical model to analyze the role that gender plays in the behavior of viruses, researchers from Royal Holloway University have found that some infectious diseases may have evolved to be more harmful to men than women. In a nutshell, there could be some weight to the theory that men act like wussies in the face of infection - a phenomenon commonly (and mockingly) known as the 'man flu.'

Scientists now believe that certain viruses are, in essence, ‘going easy’ on women in an attempt to get themselves passed on to children through pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding. In other words, these viruses may see women as more valuable in terms of their ability to transmit the infection to other people, meaning that men tend to be hit harder by symptoms since the virus cares less about their survival.

“Viruses may be evolving to be less dangerous to women, looking to preserve the female population,” said researcher Francesco Ubeda.

“The virus wants to be passed from mother to child, either through breastfeeding, or just through giving birth.“

Men are more likely than women to die from a range of diseases, including chickenpox and tuberculosis. While this variance in mortality rates has often been linked to a stronger immune system in women, this new research suggests mutations in the virus itself may actually be responsible.

Co-author Vincent Jansen said a virus may be able to tell if its host is a man or a woman by detecting hormonal differences, meaning it could be possible to trick a virus to “think it’s in a female body rather than a male body and therefore take a different course of action.”

“We're turning it on its head and taking the pathogen's eye view,” said Jansen.

“We show theoretically it is possible, which is challenging, but we haven't proven what the mechanism is that would trigger this difference, or that there will be a difference in the pathogen's behaviour between in men and women.”

h/t The Independent