Chronic infection may contribute to frailty in older women


Older women with chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV), a lifelong viral infection, were found to have more than triple the risk of being frail than those who did not have the infection, as reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. This is the first demonstration to show an association between CMV and frailty syndrome.

The study, conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, included over 700 female participants aged 70 to 79 years. It is unique because it links an infection acquired earlier in life with functional consequences in old age.

Further data showed that women who had both the viral infection and high levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker of inflammatory response, were even more likely to be frail than those who had either alone.

"It is not clear why, with age, some people become frail, but frailty has been linked to inflammation," said Heidi N. Schmaltz, MDCM, lead author of the study. "Patients who are frail are more likely to be hospitalized, fall, develop disability, and die than their peers. Thus, it is critical to understand what causes people to become frail and what potential treatments could decrease risk of poor outcomes in those who are frail, particularly with the aging population."

While CMV is a common lifelong infection, it usually does not cause symptoms in healthy adults. Currently, CMV infections are not initially asked about in clinical practice. Researchers suggest that that more funding for research into the development of frailty and disability is essential as the population ages.

About the Corresponding Authors
Dr. Heidi N. Schmaltz is currently a geriatrician in the Calgary Health Region, and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary, Canada, where she continues to investigate frailty in older adults. Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH is a geriatrician and epidemiologist, Professor and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health and the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. Richard D. Semba, MD, MPH is an Associate Professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Schmaltz can be reached at [email protected].

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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