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Like We Said, HIV Is an Issue Among Oldsters

The World Health Organization's latest bulletin includes an editorial concerned with the underappreciation of HIV among the older set (that's over 50, says the U.N.).

As the editorial's authors, headed by WHO's own HIV guru George P. Schmid, noted:

"Older individuals are rarely included in Demographic Health Surveys. In the last 5 years, only 13 of 30 surveys included older males and none included older females. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States of America does not collect data from people older than 49. There is a dearth of prevalence data; what about incidence?"

"... Is the epidemiology of HIV in older individuals of purely academic interest? No, because understanding risk factors leads to interventions."

One of the interventions they spotlight in an accompanying article is a program from Brazil, where AIDS among the elderly has tripled to 15.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the 10 years ending in 2006. "Sex has no age. Nor has protection," reads the slogan of the Brazilian effort.

This lack of attention is further ill-founded, the authors continue, because HIV infection is on the rise among oldsters worldwide — spurred, in part, by erectile dysfunction nostrums like Viagra and Cialis, and generational avoidance of safe-sex practices (Why do I need a condom if pregnancy isn't an issue, newly randy heterosexuals might ask.).

Plus, in older populations, the progression from infection to full-blown AIDS is much quicker as the old immune system starts showing its age.

Never ones to shy from tooting our own horn, we produced two articles last year about that new sexual frontier: aging with AIDS.

In one piece, HIV/AIDS educator Jane Fowler noted that doctors typically don't discuss sex with older patients, fostering the tacit, if bizarre, assumption that age offers "some special kind of immunity." Plus, as people age and their immune systems weaken, many of the symptoms of age-related conditions, such as fatigue, dementia, weight loss and skin rashes, are similar to those of HIV.

Our other piece examined the challenges of being old and living with HIV or AIDS as one ages.

Both our pieces were essentially aimed at a First World audience, and it seems a safe assumption that what's a smoldering concern at that level is likely a raging wildfire in countries with less-developed care options.