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Examining Rising Number Of HIV Cases Among Older People

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The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Tuesday examined the increasing number of new HIV/AIDS cases recorded among people over age 50 and efforts to curb the spread of the virus among the population. About one-third of the HIV/AIDS cases in the Cleveland area involve people older than age 50, and "not just because they're living longer" due to antiretroviral treatments, the Plain Dealer reports. An increasing number of new cases caused by unprotected sex among the demographic are being recorded, "prompting new calls for HIV/AIDS education and screening for that age group," the Plain Dealer reports.

Susan Schwarzwald -- director of benefits, enrollment and access initiative for the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging -- said that physicians should ask older patients, regardless of age, questions about their sexual activity because sex is a primary mode of HIV transmission. Such discussions have "been a hard thing to do," she said. According to the Plain Dealer, a grant from the AIDS Funding Collaborative is financing a program run by Schwarzwald to educate older people about HIV/AIDS.

"Some of the symptoms might mimic symptoms of normal aging," she said, adding, "The message is, 'You need to get treatment for this disease. You can live a longer life.'" Schwarzwald added that HIV prevention messages often are ignored by older people -- especially women who have gone through menopause and are not concerned about unplanned pregnancies -- who do not insist on condom use. Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, said that the population of people older than age 50 includes two different groups with separate needs -- older people who are newly diagnosed with HIV, and those who have been living with the virus for a longer period of time. "Clearly, those diagnosed in their 30s and 40s -- who are now in their 50s and 60s -- they're a very different group of people," he said, adding, "Their issues have as much to do with being a long-term survivor as being over 50."

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The Plain Dealer reports that HIV testing has not been common among people older than age 50 in the past, despite 2006 CDC recommendations that all individuals ages 13 to 64 be tested as part of routine care. Most physicians have not considered people in the 50-and-older age group as being at risk for HIV because "[a]fter all, they weren't thought to be having unprotected sex -- or any kind of sex, for that matter -- or risky [injection] drug use," the Plain Dealer reports. According to the Plain Dealer, the rising number of new HIV cases involving older people is one of the reasons the American College of Physicians on Monday released new guidelines urging HIV screening for all patients over age 13, regardless of age (Townsend, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/2).

Broadcast Coverage

KQED's "QUEST" on Monday examined the effect of HIV/AIDS on the health of older people and the development of conditions such as dementia and heart disease. The segment included comments from Priscilla Hsue, founder of the HIV Cardiology Clinic and assistant professor of medicine at University of California- San Francisco; Elizabeth Blackburn, a molecular biologist at UCSF; and an HIV-positive man who also has other medical conditions associated with aging (Quiros, "QUEST," KQED, 12/1). Audio of the segment is available online.

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.