Date: October 10th, 2013
Since the discovery of antibiotics, the leading causes of death in the United States have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic, non-contagious diseases. Unfortunately, because of low rates of adult vaccination and the increase of resistance to antibiotics, infectious diseases and fatal infections are on the rise in America’s older population. Despite their tremendous potential for prevention, vaccination rates in seniors fall far short of targets set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Only 62.3% of adults age 65 and older received the pneumonia vaccine
- Nearly one third of adults age 65 and older had not received the flu vaccine in the previous year
- In adults 60 and older, only 17.6% received the shingles vaccine
As we age, our immune system is less effective and leaves our bodies more vulnerable to infections and illnesses. Other health conditions and the need for more use of invasive medical devices compound this susceptibility, putting older Americans at an increased risk for healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). HAIs are infections that people get while receiving medical or surgical care for other conditions in hospitals, physician offices, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare settings. They are usually preventable, yet often costly and deadly, and rapidly becoming a national crisis as they are quickly becoming resistant to our available antibiotics.
The Rising Risk of Health-care Associated Infections
Nearly 2 million Americans develop hospital acquired Infections (HAIs) each year. HAIs are a leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States, affecting approximately 1 out of every 20 patients who are hospitalized. They are also expensive—costing the U.S. more than stroke, diabetes and its complications, and chronic obstructive lung diseases combined. Hospitalized patients over the age of 65 are two to five times more likely to develop HAIs than younger patients who are also hospitalized. These infections are often deadly, in large part because they are frequently resistant to antibiotic treatment. Nearly 70% of hospital-acquired HAIs are resistant to at least one antimicrobial drug.
Infectious Disease Impact
- Between 5 and 10 million Americans get pneumonia
- 35 to 50 million people are afflicted get the flu
- 1 million people get herpes zoster (shingles)
Not only are older Americans more likely to get these infections, but they are also much more likely to end up in the hospital and face more complications like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)—the often excruciating nerve pain that 50% of older people with shingles end up with. Unfortunately older Americans are also much more likely to die from infectious diseases. In fact, the death rate from pneumonia and influenza combined is close to 130 times higher in people over the age of 85 compared to people ages 45 to 54. This increased risk due to age is even higher than that seen in heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other leading causes of death.
What Can Be Done
From 2001-2009, programs in health care settings to reduce HAIs have reduced blood stream infections from central lines by 58%, saved around 27,000 lives, and prevented $1.8 billion in medical costs. Simple programs that encourage hand-sanitation, have been shown to reduce the rate of HAIs by more than one-third, improve quality of care, improve patient outcomes, and produce considerable savings.
Many infectious diseases that affect older Americans can be prevented through vaccination. Immunizations are one of the most cost-effective ways to protect the health of individuals and our communities. Use of a pneumonia vaccination in adults age 50 and older, for example, prevented an estimated 1.2 million cases of viral pneumonia; while the flu vaccine is estimated to reduce the risk of illness in the total population by around 60%. The cost savings are also tremendous, with every dollar spent on immunizations estimated to save at least $18.40 in direct and indirect costs.
The Alliance for Aging Research is committed to promoting infection control and adult vaccination as a top priority for both health care professionals and policymakers. Through recently released resources from The Silver Book© on Infectious Diseases and Prevention through Vaccination and Healthcare Associated Infections, the Alliance raises awareness around their impact on older Americans and our economy, and highlights the value of research innovation in these fields. The fact sheets on vaccines and healthcare-associated infections are available on The Silver Book website, and a full volume on prevention through vaccination will be available in early December. These resources were released in partnership with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology in America.
Visit The Silver Book for more information and remember to start a conversation with your healthcare provider about getting yourself vaccinated and protected against such common diseases as the flu, pneumonia and shingles. When you get vaccinated you protect not only yourself, but your family and loved ones as well. Don’t forget to mention it at your next appointment!