Ageing and infection

Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Nov;2(11):659-66. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(02)00437-1.


Average life expectancy throughout developed countries has rapidly increased during the latter half of the 20th century and geriatric infectious diseases have become an increasingly important issue. Infections in the elderly are not only more frequent and more severe, but they also have distinct features with respect to clinical presentation, laboratory results, microbial epidemiology, treatment, and infection control. Reasons for increased susceptibility include epidemiological elements, immunosenescence, and malnutrition, as well as a large number of age-associated physiological and anatomical alterations. Moreover, ageing may be the cause of infection but infection can also be the cause of ageing. Mechanisms may include enhanced inflammation, pathogen-dependent tissue destruction, or accelerated cellular ageing through increased turnover. In most instances, treatment of infection leads to a satisfactory outcome in the elderly. However, in palliative care situations and in patients with terminal dementia, the decision whether or not to treat an infectious disease is becoming a difficult ethical issue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / immunology
  • Aging* / pathology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arteriosclerosis / microbiology
  • Dementia / microbiology
  • Developed Countries
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Geriatrics / education
  • Humans
  • Immune System / pathology
  • Infections / diagnosis
  • Infections / epidemiology*
  • Infections / therapy
  • Nutrition Disorders / microbiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / pathology
  • Prevalence


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents