Senior Citizens and Foodborne Diseases

Senior Citizens and Foodborne Diseases

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates that each year, 1 in 6 Americans—48 million people—suffers from a foodborne illness, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. 

Senior citizens (those age 65 and older) are particularly at risk and may experience conditions such as chronic illness or disability and undergo major surgeries, which can exacerbate susceptibility to foodborne illnesses and their resulting complications. Some die from these preventable illnesses, and many others suffer lasting health problems.

Factors that put senior citizens at higher risk for foodborne illness

  • Immune system function decreases with age, which makes it harder for the body to fight infections.
  • Chronic diseases and ailments such as malnutrition and immobility occur at high rates in seniors and can increase their vulnerability to infections.
  • Changes in the digestive system of older adults can reduce their production of stomach acid, which is an important defense against foodborne pathogens. The frequent use of antacids and antibiotics can further hamper acid production and can disrupt beneficial bacteria in the gut that offer some protection from harmful foodborne contaminants. Older adults also typically exhibit slower digestion, giving pathogens an extended amount of time to colonize and infect the body.

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