BMC Infect Dis. 2023 Nov 7;23(1):767. doi: 10.1186/s12879-023-08657-3.
BACKGROUND: Increasing life expectancy and persistently low fertility levels have led to old population age structures in most high-income countries, and population ageing is expected to continue or even accelerate in the coming decades. While older adults on average have few interactions that potentially could lead to disease transmission, their morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases, respiratory infections in particular, remain substantial. We aim to explore how population ageing affects the future transmission dynamics and mortality burden of emerging respiratory infections.
METHODS: Using longitudinal individual-level data from population registers, we model the Belgian population with evolving age and household structures, and explicitly consider long-term care facilities (LTCFs). Three scenarios are presented for the future proportion of older adults living in LTCFs. For each demographic scenario, we simulate outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 and a novel influenza A virus in 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050 and distinguish between household and community transmission. We estimate attack rates by age and household size/type, as well as disease-related deaths and the associated quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) lost.
RESULTS: As the population is ageing, small households and LTCFs become more prevalent. Additionally, families with children become smaller (i.e. low fertility, single-parent families). The overall attack rate slightly decreases as the population is ageing, but to a larger degree for influenza than for SARS-CoV-2 due to differential age-specific attack rates. Nevertheless, the number of deaths and QALY losses per 1,000 people is increasing for both infections and at a speed influenced by the share living in LTCFs.
CONCLUSION: Population ageing is associated with smaller outbreaks of COVID-19 and influenza, but at the same time it is causing a substantially larger burden of mortality, even if the proportion of LTCF residents were to decrease. These relationships are influenced by age patterns in epidemiological parameters. Not only the shift in the age distribution, but also the induced changes in the household structures are important to consider when assessing the potential impact of population ageing on the transmission and burden of emerging respiratory infections.