Hotties don’t get covid

3 minute read

New take on old chestnut from the Sun newspaper.

If you’re recovering from covid as we speak, your fatigued spirits won’t be lifted by this Sunnest of all Sun headlines:  

Still not caught Covid? It might be down to how attractive you are, scientists say 

However, as one of the dwindling number of people yet to be visited by our spiky friend, your Back Page correspondent finds this take astute, evidence-based and scientifically justified.  

What the story is covering is a study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, into the age-old mystery of why we see human beauty where we do and whether it is linked to something that makes sense, like health.  

The standard sex-selection thinking is that we are evolved to find features beautiful that are associated with freedom from deforming disease, so our offspring will inherit better immune function. This comes from the observation that certain beauty standards – clear skin, symmetrical features, bright eyes, red lips – transcend cultural influence.  

“Although intuitively and theoretically appealing, this hypothesis has not been subject to rigorous empirical scrutiny,” the study authors say.

Rigorous empirical scrutiny ensues.  

The authors measured the levels of inflammation and blood cell count and composition of 159 male and female subjects and put their blood through a range of challenge immunoassays. The subjects rated their own health and their attractiveness was rated by members of the opposite sex, including not just looks but also perceptions of wealth and success for the men.  

(The study was done at Texas Christian University. Can’t put our finger on why that surprises us.)  

They found that subjects rated more attractive had higher rates of phagocytosis of E. coli bioparticles, higher basophil counts and lower neutrophil counts – “demonstrating that attractiveness may also be related to one’s immunological efficiency in the face of bacterial threats”.  

Notably (though not for the Sun’s headline writer) this wasn’t true for viral threats – or at least, it was sex-differentiated. The men whom women found more attractive had higher levels of natural killer cell cytotoxicity, but the reverse was true for attractive women.

High natural killer cell cytoxicity right here.

They found nothing to link attractiveness to current state of health, whether self-reported or by measure of inflammation. Since previous research has found an inverse relationship between inflammation and attractiveness, those cues are probably olfactory rather than visual, they suggest.  

So we can smell when someone’s sick? Hot.  

The writers acknowledge that they may not have answered the research question for all time, since their sample had serious health conditions screened out; furthermore, “although attractiveness may have cued both health and immune function in ancestral populations, the links with health may no longer occur as modern medicine allows those with low immunocompetence to stay in relatively good health”. 

If you see someone with a breathtaking rate of phagocytosis of E. coli particles, you’re definitely standing too close. Send tips to

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