Women are less likely than men to contract infections at hospitals, possibly because of differences between the sexes in skin bacteria, a new study suggests.
In the study, 10 in 1,000 women developed bloodstream infections during their stay at health care facilities, compared with a rate of 16 in 1,000 for men.
Similarly, for surgical site infections, in which an incision gets infected, women had a rate of 44 in 10,000, while the infection rate for men was 74 per 10,000.
"By understanding the factors that put patients at risk for infections, clinicians may be able to design targeted prevention and surveillance strategies to improve infection rates and outcomes," said study researcher Bevin Cohen, of Columbia University School of Nursing.
The researchers looked at 82,225 patients in health care facilities in New York City, and were estimating the costs of infections when they discovered the significant difference in the risk of infections for men versus women.
After controlling for possible contributing factors, such as patients' medical problems and the events during their stay at the hospital, the difference between the genders remained significant.
The difference was the greatest for patients ages 12 to 49.
The researchers said that although it is unknown exactly how gender might influence infection risk, the results are consistent with previous findings.
One possible explanation is that there are differences in skin bacterial colonization, or other anatomical differences that put men at higher risk for infections, according to the researchers.
Previous studies have found that bacterial colonization of the skin surrounding surgical incisions is greater in men than in women, the researchers said.
It is possible, however, that other biological factors drive the gender difference in the risk of infections, although the study didn't investigate those factors, Cohen told LiveScience.
The researchers found the results for bloodstream infections particularly surprising, because previous findings have suggested that 25 to 43 percent of such infections originate from urinary-tract infections, which are more common in women than in men.
Future research might consider whether it would be beneficial to develop ways to lower men's risk of developing infections, the researchers wrote in their study, published May 30 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.