FOR too long, we have been downplaying a serious plague of our time. It knocks the sufferer low in a flash and the symptoms are deceptively low-key. It seems like a common cold but as any poor lickle man who has had it will tell you, repeatedly and in between requests for cuddles and Lemsips, it can be absolutely life-threatening.
It is, of course, the dreaded Man Flu. For years womankind has been faking compassion -- well, I have anyway -- towards their sicker halves around flu season. Yes, dear, I know it hurts. No, dear, I don't think you've got scarlet fever. Yes, dear, it's definitely worse than that time I had a triple root canal. No, dear, we probably don't need to call the doctor out again to take your temperature.
Not for a second time today.
In advanced cases of male weediness, we've even put up with the constant clanging of a tiny hand-held bell summoning us to the sick bed -- sorry, death bed. Man flu seems to come with a serious side complication, the Napoleon complex.
The 'sufferer' adopts the mentality of a mini-emperor, issuing his minions a constant stream of demands for magazines, the remote control, ice-cream, rice pudding "the way my mother used to make it, with red jam in it", sponge baths.
The danger symptom to look out for is when he begins to demand that the skin be peeled from his grapes. The best treatment for this escalation of the disease is a verbal tonic called, 'Do it your own &$!?!%!! self!'
In the back of the female mind, however, has always been the consolation of knowing that the man flu is just a display of women's superior nature.
We are the martyrs, the carers, the long-suffering put-upons and we get together in secret covens and laugh at the silliness of our men over goblets of newt-eye mead.
Now we don't even have that. Researchers at Cambridge University in England, who clearly have too much time on their hands, have announced that man flu is -- gasp -- real. It's all the fault of the cave man apparently. Modern man's ancestors liked to 'live fast, die young' and that predilection for danger meant their immune systems never developed as fully as women's. A weaker immune system means their bodies can spend more energy on the things that are more important to men like reproduction, says report author -- and man -- Dr Olivier Restif.
Fantastic. We're never going to hear the end of this now, are we? Men all over the world will feel validated every time they get a sniffle or a dainty cough. "See! I told you I was dying!" (Yes, well, we're all technically slowly moving to our death, although I can hasten you to yours, if you like.)
Not only will a man's bout of flu from now on be worse than a woman's -- worse than the pangs of childbirth, if we're honest -- he'll have nature, the universe and evolution on his side to back him up.
You think the demands were bad when we could argue that it was all in their head? Imagine how far they'll be able to take it now. If they don't get that glass of flat 7Up immediately, they will perish within minutes. If you're not offering to give them a piggy-back up the stairs to bed, then you are a cold, unfeeling harridan. The economy will collapse -- again -- under the weight of all the sickies being taken by men fearing the worst at the first sign of a runny nose.
The human race itself will be under threat if duvet days are not made obligatory for male workers so they don't run the risk of getting all feverish in the office and passing it on to their pals.
But bear in mind one thing, guys, the next time you lie in bed making like snuffleupagus in Sesame Street.
The research does actually prove something we've known all along: women are NOT the weaker sex.