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Original article

Vol. 152 No. 1920 (2022)

Sex disparities in patients with suspected COVID-19 presenting at an emergency department in Switzerland

  • Ketina Arslani
  • Ceylan Eken
  • Sarah Tschudin-Sutter
  • Caroline E. Gebhard
  • Nuria Zellweger
  • Stefano Bassetti
  • Roland Bingisser
  • Maurin Lampart
  • Stefan Osswald
  • Gabriela M. Kuster
  • Raphael Twerenbold
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2022;152:w30167


AIMS OF THE STUDY: In the global COVID-19 pandemic, female sex is associated with comparable infection rates but better outcome. However, most studies lacked appropriate controls. We investigated whether these sex disparity findings are specific to patients with COVID-19 or generalizable to patients presenting to the emergency room (ER) with similar symptoms but no COVID-19.

METHODS: In this prospective cohort study, consecutive patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 were recruited at the ER of the University Hospital Basel, Switzerland from March to June 2020. Patients were categorized as SARS-CoV-2 positive (cases) or negative (controls) based on nasopharyngeal PCR swab tests. The final clinical diagnosis was determined for all patients. The primary outcome was a composite of intensive care admission, rehospitalization for respiratory distress and all-cause death within 30 days. We used Kaplan–Meier curves and Cox proportional hazards models to explore associations between sex and outcomes.

RESULTS: Among 1,081 consecutive ER patients, 191 (18%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, with an even sex distribution (17.9% female vs. 17.5% male, p = 0.855). In COVID-19 patients, female sex was associated with lower risk of hospitalization (51% vs. 66%, p = 0.034), lower necessity of haemodynamic support (8% vs. 20%, p = 0.029), lower rates of intubation (10% vs. 21%, p = 0.037) and the primary outcome (18% vs. 31%, p = 0.045; age-adjusted HR 0.536, 95%CI 0.290–0.989, p = 0.046) compared with male sex. Sex disparities were most prominent in patients ≥55 years (HR for composite primary outcome in women 0.415, 95%CI 0.201–0.855, p = 0.017). In contrast to the COVID-19 patients, no sex-specific differences in outcomes were observed in the unselected overall control group (age-adjusted HR 0.844, 95%CI 0.560–1.273, p = 0.419) or in a subgroup of controls with upper respiratory tract infections or pneumonia (age-adjusted HR 0.840, 95%CI 0.418–1.688, p = 0.624).

CONCLUSION: In this unselected, consecutive cohort study at a tertiary hospital in Switzerland, female sex is associated with better outcome in patients presenting to the ER with COVID-19. These sex disparities seem to be at least partly specific to COVID-19, as they were not observed in comparable controls.


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