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Anyone can get coronavirus, but older adults — especially men and those with cardiovascular disease — seem to be especially vulnerable. While there are many possible reasons why this is the case, some scientists have speculated that an enzyme called ACE2 might have something to do with it.

ACE2 is found naturally in the body, but some people have more of it than others. That might be problematic during the coronavirus pandemic, as animal studies have suggested that virus gets into cells by latching onto ACE2 receptors.

Are men more susceptible to coronavirus because they have higher levels of ACE2? A new study, published in the European Heart Journal, suggests that it is possible.

The researchers measured levels of ACE2 in a large group of older people with heart failure and found that the men had higher levels of ACE2 in their bloodstream compared to the women. However, they didn’t actually study anyone who was infected with coronavirus, so the connection is just theoretical and more research is needed.

The researchers also wanted to find out if taking blood pressure drugs from either of two common classes (ACE inhibitors and ARBs) would raise the amount of ACE2 in someone’s bloodstream. It has been previously speculated that these drugs would have this impact and, in turn, possibly increase the risk that someone on these drugs could contract coronavirus.

According to this study, that does not appear to be the case: The authors reported that “those receiving ACE inhibitors or ARBs did not have higher concentrations of ACE2.”

The fact that these drugs did not increase ACE2 should give some comfort to people with heart failure and high blood pressure who take these medications but wondered if continuing to do during the pandemic was a wise move. The American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, and Heart Failure Society of American have already advised people who routinely take these drugs to stick with them.

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Byrd JB. Your ACE Inhibitor or ARB Medication: Is There a COVID-19 Connection? Michigan Health. April 30, 2020. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/heart-health/your-ace-inhibitor-or-arb-medication-there-a-covid-19-connection.

Sama IE, et al: Circulating Plasma Concentrations of Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 in Men and Women With Heart Failure and Effects of Renin–Angiotensin–Aldosterone Inhibitors. European Heart Journal. May 10, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa373.