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Version 1.0 | Update 23Jun11
Author Leonard H Alberts, M.D.

HIV FAQs for life

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Are more adults over 50 now living with HIV and Aids?

Yes. The number of cases of HIV and Aids in older adults continues to increase. There are two causes. First, higher numbers of older adults are becoming newly infected with the HIV virus. Second, an increasing proportion of those who have been living with the virus are maturing.
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What can I do?

Lots of things. For example:
  • Learn about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them.
  • Talk about HIV and other STDs with your partner or partners.
  • Talk to your medical provider about HIV and ask to be tested.
  • Use condoms and a condom-friendly lube EVERY time you have sex.
  • If you use IV drugs, use clean needles and syringes EVERY time.
  • Avoid sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, especially with new or unknown partners.
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Make sure that you and your health-care provider don’t forget about screening for other age-related diseases. This includes mammograms and vaginal exams (for women), prostate checks (for men), colonoscopies, bone density checks for osteoporosis, diabetes screening, heart screening for blood pressure and cholesterol, routine kidney function tests (urinalysis) as well as mental health screening – particularly for depression.
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What does the US Centers for Disease Control recommend on HIV testing?

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once. The test should be repeated annually if there are known risk factors: Multiple sex partners, men having sex with men, use of IV drugs, etc. In addition, in the presence of a known risk, the CDC recommends testing up to age 75.
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NEAHOF and other Hiv50+ advocates believe that raising the universal testing age to at least 85 would help save lives.
  • Thousands of infected persons over 65, ignorant of their HIV status, would know to practice safer sex and get treatment.
  • A change in Federal policy would raise awareness of the risk of HIV infection among the elderly, leading to new efforts at prevention and diagnosis and thus lowering infection rates.
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How many people over 55 have undiagnosed HIV or Aids?

Nearly 350,000 people over 55 are thought to be living with undiagnosed HIV infection. About 120,000 of the undiagnosed are over 65 – among these, only about 30,000 are estimated to fall into any at-risk category. Over 40% of new diagnoses in those over 55 follow hospitalisation with “full-blown Aids”. Among this population, survival rates are very low.
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Is HIV associated with other health conditions related to aging?

Conditions that go along with, or are made worse when associated with HIV infection include depression, arthritis, hepatitis, diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and skin, eyesight and hearing problems, high blood pressure, cancer and secondary infections.
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Why is HIV such a problem for older adults?

There are four main influences:
  • More adults are more sexually active. 73% of people between ages 57-64 had sex in the past year, 53% of those 65-74 and 26% of those older than 75.
  • Erectile dysfunction drugs make it easier for older men to have sex.
  • Women are prone to post-menopausal vaginal dryness, which makes HIV easier to transmit during sex.
  • IV drug use remains a problem among elders. Nearly one in six HIV diagnoses in those over 50 correlates to intravenous drug use.
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Will my doctor be able to figure this out?

Yes, with your help. HIV in seniors is often misdiagnosed. Early symptoms of fatigue, weight loss and mental confusion mimic normal aging processes. A doctor who doesn’t know your sexual and social history may assume you don’t have sex and don’t use recreational drugs.

Discuss your social and sexual history and activities with your doctor at your annual physical exam.
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Can HIV cause premature aging?

Yes. The effect of the virus on the body’s immune system may accelerate the normal changes in cells that come from aging.
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Is treatment of HIV different in older adults?

It may be. Most treatment experts recommend starting anti-viral treatments (the drug “cocktail”) earlier in the course of infection to get a head-start on the already-aging immune system. Because HIV treatment can interfere with other drugs you take, such as medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, regimens must be chosen more carefully. Drug interactions can be tricky.