News / Health

    More Older People Contracting HIV/AIDS

    Women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases as they age

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Ashley Milne-Tyte

    Poster from an AIDS prevention campaign aimed at older people bears the message, ''Age is not a condom. And if you can't use one, tell your doctor.'
    Poster from an AIDS prevention campaign aimed at older people bears the message, ''Age is not a condom. And if you can't use one, tell your doctor.'

    Most people think of HIV/AIDS as a young person's disease but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control predicts that - five years from now - half of Americans with HIV/AIDS will be at least 50 years old. Most of them will be people who've survived into their fifties, thanks to effective drugs.

    But the number of people who are contracting HIV at age 50 or older went up 16 percent between 2005 and 2008. Researchers worry it will keep rising unless this age group starts thinking about prevention.

    'Sex never gets old'

    Jane Fowler never used to talk about sex. Like most people born in the 1930s, the subject was pretty much off-limits. But she's spent the last 15 years traveling the country, warning older adults about the dangers of unprotected sex. When she was in her early fifties, she tells them, she was trying to get her life back on track after a painful divorce.

    "So I started to date. I was dating for the first time in 25 years and we're talking the mid-1980s," says Fowler. "I didn't know what was out there. I knew I couldn't get pregnant."

    So she didn't even think about using condoms. She started seeing an old family friend who was also divorced. A few years after their relationship fizzled, she applied for a new health insurance plan. She was asked to take a blood test. That's how she found she was HIV-positive.

    Dr. Steve Karpiak is director of research for ACRIA, the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. He says older women are not the only ones to be shocked by the diagnosis.

    "I mean there's not a month that goes by we hear about, it could be a 70, 80, even early 90-year-old woman, who's suddenly, they think something's wrong with her and no one thinks to test for HIV until they're way into the diagnostic process."

    A poster campaign that encourages older people to protect their sexual health bears the message 'Sex never gets old. And neither does keeping yourself protected.'
    A poster campaign that encourages older people to protect their sexual health bears the message 'Sex never gets old. And neither does keeping yourself protected.'

    Talking prevention

    Karpiak says although more men than women contract the virus, women are particularly vulnerable. Many women who've gone through menopause see no need to protect themselves during sex. But for physiological reasons, women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases as they age. Karpiak says few doctors talk to older patients about their sex lives, or the dangers of STDs, including HIV.

    But Ed Shaw is trying to get that message out. He was diagnosed with HIV in his 40s, and more than two decades later, looks far younger than his 69 years. Like Jane Fowler, he's still alive thanks to a daily regimen of anti-retroviral drugs. He heads the New York Association of HIV Over 50. For the last few years he's been speaking at New York City senior centers.

    "You'd be surprised how many folks don't know some of the basics about HIV," says Shaw.

    Shaw usually doesn't reveal he's HIV-positive until the end of his talk. He recalls one woman who approached him after a session.

    "She says 'You know Mr. Shaw, if you didn't have that thing I'd take you home with me right now.' I said 'That's the very reason why I'm saying you need to know the status of your partner.'"

    Shaw encourages everyone in his audience to get tested.

    HIV rates are 12 times higher among blacks than they are among whites. AIDS activist and former music promoter Maria Davis is 51. She's been living with the virus for 15 years. She says there's still a lot of ignorance about the disease in her African-American community.

    "People are still saying if somebody eats off your fork, they can get AIDS or HIV, or if somebody goes in the bathroom behind you," says Davis. "I mean I have people asking me those kinds of questions."

    There are stumbling blocks when it comes to discussing older people and HIV prevention.

    "People think older people don't have sex. I don't know what they thinking about," says Davis who has talked to young people who cannot imagine their grandparents having sex. "They're human beings like you, and one day you'll be old too. Everybody wants affection. Everybody wants companionship."

    And, Davis says, everybody needs to protect themselves once they find those things.

    High costs

    The growing number of infected people in their fifties and sixties also presents a new challenge for the U.S. health system.

    Older people are costly to treat anyway, but those with HIV or AIDS will be far more so. And this is not just a problem for the U.S. UN AIDS estimates that globally, around 11 percent of the more than 33 million people with HIV are 50 and over. That's up from seven percent earlier this decade.

    Dr. Steve Karpiak of ACRIA says living with the virus in an aging body means coping with health complications such as heart conditions, cancer, hypertension and osteoporosis.

    "You're 55 on your birth certificate but clinically you look like you're 80," he says, adding that a prevention campaign aimed at older people is overdue. Karpiak believes the more people of all ages talk about sex and HIV, the likelier it is the number of new cases will start to drop.

    You May Like

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora