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Posted: July 10, 2009

Keeping Seniors Healthy

The Elderly and AIDS? Yes, It's an Issue

Q. My 65-year-old grandfather is dating a 58-year-old woman. Believe it or not, I’m wondering whether I should talk with him about protecting himself against AIDS. It may be ridiculous, but I am wondering.

A.  This is not at all an unusual question. A growing number of older people have HIV/AIDS. About 19% of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country now are over age 50. New AIDS cases have risen faster in the over-50 population than in people under 40.

Since the early 80's, HIV in people over 50 accounted for about 10% of all cases. However, the method of transmission has changed. Blood transfusion was once the major transmission mode. Now, heterosexual contact and IV drug use are the main causes of HIV infection in seniors.

Heterosexual transmission in men over 50 is up 94% -- and 107% in women -- since 1991.

But there may even be many more cases, because doctors do not always test older people for HIV/AIDS during routine exams, and older people often mistake signs of HIV/AIDS for the aches of normal aging so they don’t get medical attention.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases among older people is growing every year because older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people, healthcare professionals often do not talk with older people about prevention, older people are less likely than younger people to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the immune system. This makes you vulnerable to diseases, infections, and cancers. When that happens, you have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the last stage of HIV infection.

HIV symptoms include headache, cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of energy, loss of appetite and weight loss, fevers and sweats, repeated yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores and short-term memory loss.

Your healthcare provider can test your blood for HIV/AIDS.  You can also test your blood at home with the “Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System” that you can buy at your drug store. It is the only HIV home test system approved by the Food and Drug Administration and sold legally in the United States.

Anyone can get HIV and AIDS. HIV usually comes from having unprotected sex or sharing needles with an infected person, or through contact with HIV-infected blood.

You can not get HIV from: casual contact such as shaking hands with someone who has HIV/AIDS; using a public telephone, drinking fountain, restroom, swimming pool, hot tub;  sharing a drink; being coughed or sneezed on by a person with HIV/AIDS; giving blood, and a mosquito bite.

However, you may be at risk if you do not use condoms, you do not know your partner’s drug and sexual history, you have had a blood transfusion or operation in a developing country, you had a blood transfusion in the United States between 1978 and 1985.

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. But if you become infected, there are drugs that help keep the HIV virus in check and slow the spread of HIV in the body. Doctors are now using a combination of drugs called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) to treat HIV/AIDS. Although it is not a cure, HAART is greatly reducing the number of deaths from AIDS in this country.

So, yes, young man, a modern-day “facts of life” talk with your grandfather would not be out of place. Good luck.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2009 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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