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In scientific terms, is it absolutely safe to say that "bald men are more likely to have COVID-19?"

This article was published on
April 21, 2021

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No, it is not safe to say in scientific terms that bald men are more likely to have COVID-19. In May 2020, a research study was widely reported in news headlines, which suggested male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) could mean higher risks for severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, this is not exactly what the researchers found. The authors of this publication also acknowledged there were research limitations meaning their results cannot be generalized to a larger population and further studies are needed. Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), the researchers wrote that out of 122 men and 53 women admitted with COVID-19 to hospitals in Madrid, Spain, they found 79% of the male patients had some hair loss or baldness (alopecia) while estimating the prevalence of baldness in the general population is only 31%-53%. However, the researchers acknowledged limitations of their findings, including how only 175 people were studied (in research terminology, this is considered a** **small sample size that limits how findings can be generalized to a larger population). They also acknowledged that patients in the study were all admitted to a hospital with COVID-19, meaning there was no comparison group (control group) of participants without COVID-19 to compare the findings against the general population. Additionally, the research did not include information about patient outcomes (such as how the patients fared after they were admitted to the hospital), so it was not possible for researchers to compare outcomes for patients with and without baldness. In general, many researchers and doctors have cautioned that older people and men are more likely to have severe cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, and older men are also more likely to be bald. For these reasons, "bald men are more likely to have COVID-19" is an incorrect interpretation of the published research.

No, it is not safe to say in scientific terms that bald men are more likely to have COVID-19. In May 2020, a research study was widely reported in news headlines, which suggested male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) could mean higher risks for severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, this is not exactly what the researchers found. The authors of this publication also acknowledged there were research limitations meaning their results cannot be generalized to a larger population and further studies are needed. Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), the researchers wrote that out of 122 men and 53 women admitted with COVID-19 to hospitals in Madrid, Spain, they found 79% of the male patients had some hair loss or baldness (alopecia) while estimating the prevalence of baldness in the general population is only 31%-53%. However, the researchers acknowledged limitations of their findings, including how only 175 people were studied (in research terminology, this is considered a** **small sample size that limits how findings can be generalized to a larger population). They also acknowledged that patients in the study were all admitted to a hospital with COVID-19, meaning there was no comparison group (control group) of participants without COVID-19 to compare the findings against the general population. Additionally, the research did not include information about patient outcomes (such as how the patients fared after they were admitted to the hospital), so it was not possible for researchers to compare outcomes for patients with and without baldness. In general, many researchers and doctors have cautioned that older people and men are more likely to have severe cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, and older men are also more likely to be bald. For these reasons, "bald men are more likely to have COVID-19" is an incorrect interpretation of the published research.

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What our experts say

No, it is not safe to say in scientific terms that bald men are more likely to have COVID-19. In May 2020, a research study was widely reported in news headlines, which suggested male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) could mean higher risks for severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, this is not exactly what the researchers found. The authors of this publication also acknowledged there were research limitations meaning their results cannot be generalized to a larger population and further studies are needed.

Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), the researchers wrote that out of 122 men and 53 women admitted with COVID-19 to hospitals in Madrid, Spain, they found 79% of the male patients had some hair loss or baldness (alopecia) while estimating the prevalence of baldness in the general population is only 31%-53%. However, the researchers acknowledged limitations of their findings, including how only 175 people were studied (in research terminology, this is considered a small sample size that limits how findings can be generalized to a larger population). They also acknowledged that patients in the study were all admitted to a hospital with COVID-19, meaning there was no comparison group (control group) of participants without COVID-19 to compare the findings against the general population.

Additionally, the research did not include information about patient outcomes (such as how the patients fared after they were admitted to the hospital), so it was not possible for researchers to compare outcomes for patients with and without baldness. In general, many researchers and doctors have cautioned that older people and men are more likely to have severe cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, and older men are also more likely to be bald. For these reasons, "bald men are more likely to have COVID-19" is an incorrect interpretation of the published research.

Context and background

Recent international studies and headlines have focused on the possible link between male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) and the likelihood of becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The research behind this news was on adults hospitalized in Spain with COVID-19, which found that a higher percentage of the sick men had some kind of hair loss or baldness, in comparison to the percentage of the general population experiencing hair loss. The findings were misreported in the news as "bald men are more likely to have COVID-19," but it is important to take into account how there were issues in the research mentioned above and also how certain people who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 (men, older people) are also more likely to have hair loss.

In related research, scientists have been trying to understand why men are more likely to have severe cases of COVID-19 than women, by considering the impact of androgen (a hormone that is an important part of male sexual development from before birth and through puberty, which is also linked to sex drive and hair growth). However, there has been no evidence to support this claim about baldness, and other research studies focusing on androgens are still underway.

Resources

  1. Androgenetic alopecia present in the majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19: The “Gabrin sign” (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology)
  2. The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Bald Men at Risk (Medscape)
  3. Androgenetic alopecia (NIH)

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