VANCOUVER -- The majority of patients being treated for novel coronavirus in intensive care units are men, a B.C. health official says.

Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked during her daily update Thursday, April 23, about data from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggesting men seem to be hit harder by COVID-19 than women.

Data released by PHAC showed 56 per cent of the hospitalizations and 66 per cent of ICU admissions examined by the agency were men. 

The provincial health officer said a similar trend has been noted in B.C.

"We are seeing that same predilection for men to have a higher likelihood of being hospitalized or being in ICU," Henry said.

She estimated around 65 to 70 per cent of COVID-related admissions to B.C. ICUs are men.

About two-thirds of overall hospitalizations for coronavirus are men.

Henry said generally those patients that require hospitalization are "slightly older," at a median age in their 60s, and about two-thirds admitted to hospitals or ICUs specifically have underlying illnesses.

Among those conditions are diabetes and heart disease, as well as respiratory illness and cancer.

Interestingly, though, more women than men have been confirmed to have the virus in B.C. Henry said 53 per cent of overall test-positive cases are in women.

"It may have something to do with the male immune system," Henry said,

Among the theories, she said, is that women's immune systems are able to adapt, so they can have pregnancies without their bodies putting up a fight.

"Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have more of the proteins… that cause our immune system to get excited and to attack viruses that invade our system. But that's speculation. We don't know for sure," Henry said.

She noted it's a phenomenon being seen elsewhere in the world, and that research is being conducted.

But she warned the answer may not be that simple.

"There are more factors than that, including the higher proportion of men in that age group who might have underlying illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, as well as other genetic factors that we just don't know yet. So it's one of those really interesting things that has borne out in countries around the world that we still don't have answers to yet."

And she added another element that should be taken into account is that deaths are heavily skewed toward the oldest British Columbians, who may not go to hospital if they're already in a care home.

"But the whole question of why men are more likely to have more serious illness than women is one that is being asked around the world," she said.