The Association Between Cytomegalovirus and Disability by Race/Ethnicity and Sex: Results From the Health and Retirement Study

Am J Epidemiol. 2021 Nov 2;190(11):2314-2322. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwab152.


Recent studies have documented a decline in the overall prevalence of disability in the United States; however, racial/ethnic and sex disparities continue to persist. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, a socially patterned exposure, may be a key mechanism in understanding these previously documented disparities. Using data from a nationally representative study, the 2016 Health and Retirement Study, we employed Poisson log-binomial models to estimate the prevalence of disability in a comparison of CMV-seropositive and -seronegative adults and investigated effect modification by race/ethnicity and sex. Among the 9,029 participants (55% women; mean age = 67.4 years), 63% were CMV-seropositive and 15% were disabled. CMV seropositivity was highest among non-Hispanic Black (88%) and Hispanic (92%) adults as compared with non-Hispanic White adults (57%). We found evidence for effect modification in the association between CMV and disability by sex but not race/ethnicity. While the 95% confidence intervals in the fully adjusted models included the null value, in comparison with seronegative women, our results suggest a greater prevalence of disability among CMV-seropositive women (prevalence ratio = 1.16, 95% confidence interval: 0.97, 1.38) but not among men (prevalence ratio = 0.85, 95% confidence interval: 0.69, 1.06). Results provide initial support for the hypothesis that CMV may be an important determinant of sex disparities in disability.

Keywords: activities of daily living; cytomegalovirus; disability; health disparities; social epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / ethnology*
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology