THE BIG DEBATE: Is man flu a myth? Take our poll

Is man flu just a myth, the lads looking for a bit of extra attention? Or is it something much more real, and much more serious? Dave Kenny and Catherine Shanahan debate this age old topic. If you have an opinion on this make sure you take our poll at the end.

With female hormones protecting them from colds and flu, a new study suggest man flu is real, says Dave Kenny, as he suffers through a heavy cold.

AS EXCUSES go, it was the most breathtakingly original I’ve ever heard.

The lady in my local shop heard me sniffling.

“Man flu?” She smirked, scanning my box of Lemsip.

“Doh. Id’s dust a cold,” I replied, snottily.

“Go on out of that. It’s man flu.” I angrily hoovered a gob of snot back up my left nostril, and said nothing. There was no point. Women are the stronger sex: men are wimps, etc, etc.

“At least you’re not as bad as my 14-year-old son,” she continued. “He had a great excuse for not going to school today. He has diarrhoea.”

“And man flu??” I replied, sarcastically.

“No… he told me he had the Ebola virus.” I laughed, and a bright green bogey ballooned out of my nose like a cartoon speech bubble.

“He has a cold and got a nose bleed from blowing his hooter too hard. Typical male, convinced himself he was dying.”

This exchange, although it was at the extreme end of female condescension, is typical of what men have to endure when sick. We can never admit to suspecting that a heavy cold — or Ebola — might be something more serious, for fear of ridicule.

Women, we are told, are too busy multi-tasking to stay in bed with the flu. Men, on the other hand, exaggerate the symptoms to get attention. We can’t win. In the past, if a woman heard a man breathing heavily, she’d report him to the cops. Nowadays, he is likely to be accused of having man flu.

For the record, it drives me mad when someone accuses me of malingering with MF. I’m not a whinger (and I don’t breathe heavily down the phone). I have cycled with a collapsed lung, endured broken ribs for a month, and had shingles for a week — all without taking to my bed.

So when is a man allowed to be ill? Last year, a Bristol man tragically died after being misdiagnosed with man flu by a paramedic. He had meningitis. Another unfortunate man misdiagnosed himself with MF… and died of a stroke brought on by pneumonia. Man flu’s not so funny now, eh girls?

No matter how you dress it up as a ‘joke’, man flu-ism is sexist. If a bloke accused a sick female colleague of having woman flu he’d be hauled before the HR manager:

“Hah! You don’t have the flu — it’s just your period! Woman up, you wimp.” In fairness, a lot of men do play the dying swan when they have a cold. This may be because we’re hardwired to bear discomfort stoically.

If we hammer a nail through our thumb, we will screech a little, but ultimately get on with things as we know our injury is not life-threatening. Give us a cold, though, and even the most Rambo-esque of us can fall to pieces. We don’t know how to deal with the invisible enemy draining our life force.

For a man, having a cold is worse than having a spear sticking out of your butt. At least with a spear, you know what’s causing the problem. I call this the ‘King Kong Syndrome’. Most men weep during the scene where Kong is machine-gunned on top of the Empire State. There’s a heartbreaking look in his eyes as he tries to swat the bullets away.

It asks: “Why something so small cause Kong so much pain?” Men can identify with this. Next time you hear your man coughing, look in his eyes. You’ll see that look there too.

Man flu is a real illness. Why else would Kleenex make ‘mansize handkerchiefs’? Actually, I’m surprised no-one has reported them for sexist marketing. If you don’t believe me, then get a copy of January’s respected American Journal of Physiology.

It reported on a new study that proves MF does exist — and not in the pejorative sense. Researchers found that oestrogen protects females from the more aggressive symptoms of flu. Women suffer less than men.

I broke this news to my older sister yesterday, after telling her I was “dying of a cold”. Her response, at first, seemed supportive.

“You don’t have man flu,” she said. I thanked her.

“You’re not manly enough.” “What is it then?” I asked, sensing there was a punchline coming.

“Swine flu,” she cackled. “You’ve got swine flu.” I give up.

Yes, men are more likely to get ill and, no, they’re not always faking it. But man flu is mainly about the lads looking for a bit of sympathy, says Catherine Shanahan

THE BIG DEBATE: Is man flu a myth? Take our poll

The guys who put their lives on the line collapse at the hint of a sniffle because there are times when they just need a little bit of mollycoddling

YOU all know the one about man flu? A survey by lad mag Nuts conducted a couple of years ago has been widely cited as scientific proof that man flu is not a manufactured illness.

Hold off on the snorting while we dissect this argument.

The survey canvassed more than 2,000 readers, and it found that 64% of men suffer from a viral illness compared with just 45% of women. It also found men take an average of three days to recover while women take 1.5. And that most men think staying in bed is the best cure while an undisclosed number of women (“most”?) prefer exercise.

As one critic pointed out, a lad mag survey is hardly the most scientific environment for this kind of research. Aside from the fact that it pays no heed to the many variables that generally influence health outcomes — for instance, age, general health, diet, income and standard of living — I don’t know a single woman who would prefer the treadmill to the bedroom when feeling under the weather. But maybe the results reflect Nuts’ predominately male readership?

I sought out further enlightenment. It came in the form of a study by researchers at Cambridge University. It found that evolutionary factors may have led women to develop more rigorous immune systems than men due to “differing reproductive strategies”.

Imagine my lack of surprise to find that “differing reproductive strategies” translates as menfolk believing the ability to mate is more important than getting better.

There we have it then. The price of ALWAYS being up for it, even on their death-bed, makes men more susceptible to illness. The same study found us gals were more focused on getting better than getting the leg over.

My own little brood is further proof of how men crumble in the face of minor injury or illness (but not in the face of war and pestilence).

A clumsy stumble in the back garden triggered screams no rutting cat could compete with when my son fell, not off, but against, a trampoline. His father reacted with an extended eye roll. His sister viewed him with pity, not because of his “injury” but because she would rather die than have anyone see her cry.

He was duly packed off to a birthday party where he spent two hours waiting in pain for someone to take him seriously.

When I arrived home from work, he was prostrate on the sofa. So was his father who had by now realised the boy was genuine.

I took him (the son, not the dad) to the Swift Clinic.

An X-ray showed a broken bone in his foot, setting us parents on the road to perdition for ignoring the suffering of little children. The moral of this tale is that sometimes males aren’t faking it.

And so back to man flu. Armed with a semi-plausible explanation, but still in need of a definition, I went to Wikipedia. It told me the 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.” And: “When the sufferer is alone, then the condition can only be the common cold,”

Eureka. The guys who have no problem putting their lives on the line to protect king and country collapse at the hint of a sniffle because there are times in their lives when they just need a little bit of mollycoddling.




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