AARP, Meet STD - Pacific Standard

AARP, Meet STD

Studies show the over-50 demographic needs AIDS education.
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The acronyms AARP and HIV seldom appear in the same sentence. But the assumption that AIDS is a disease of the young — a misconception shared by many physicians — has helped lead to an increase in the number of Americans 50 and older who are infected with the virus (see "The Over-50 Crowd Relearns the Facts of Life").

New figures from the Georgia Division of Public Health suggest the need for better health education to inform sexually active older people that they, too, are at risk. According to a troubling trend line released by the agency in June, the number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in the state's over-50 population nearly doubled over the past decade, from 189 in 1998 to 341 in 2007. The gender gap is striking, with men in this unenviable category outnumbering women by 2-to-1.

Dr. David Rimland, chief of infectious diseases at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the figures reflect a mix of previously infected patients who are just now becoming symptomatic and an unknown number who are getting infected later in life. He added that, in his Veterans Affairs-sponsored clinic, an astonishing two-thirds of new HIV/AIDS cases over the past several years have involved patients over age 50.

Meanwhile, a study published in the June issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that routinely screening 55- to 75-year-olds for HIV would be cost-effective. It could also prolong lives. Dr. Douglas Owens, a Stanford University professor of medicine who co-authored the study, reported that diagnosing a 65-year-old with HIV and commencing treatment lengthens the patient's life by an average of six to nine months.

Identifying the Voter ID Problem

The surprisingly widespread practice of challenging the eligibility of voters either protects the democratic process from fraud or subverts it through intimidation (see "What Barriers Stand in Your Way to the Polls?"). The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the politically charged issue in May, ruling on a 6-3 vote that an Indiana law requiring a photo ID to vote is constitutional. But that decision, defended by Republicans but derided by Democrats, has not ended the debate.

Approximately half the states require voters to present some form of photo identification at the polls, and similar legislation is pending in several more. But there is considerable resistance from those who feel such a requirement disproportionately disenfranchises minorities and the poor. One week after the Supreme Court ruling, the Missouri House of Representatives tentatively approved a voter ID law, but the body adjourned in May without taking a final vote. Opponents of the measure claimed victory and cited a grass-roots lobbying campaign in which legislators were called and urged to reject the bill.

In Texas, a Republican-sponsored voter ID bill failed last year; Gov. Rick Perry vowed at the state party convention in June to reintroduce the legislation in 2009. And even the Indiana law upheld by the nation's highest court is not in the clear. In June, the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit challenging its legality under the state constitution. The group requested an expedited hearing so a decision can be made before the November balloting.

One Explanation for James Carville

Could our political beliefs be a result of genetic predisposition? That provocative question was posed when two political scientists at the University of California, San Diego published a paper suggesting people with certain genetic variations are less likely to engage in political activity (see "Is the GOP in Your DNA?"). While environmental factors play a major role in shaping our beliefs, one of the study's authors asserted that genetic markers indicating a person is innately inclined to be a liberal or a conservative almost certainly exist, although they have yet to be discovered.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media picked up on that somewhat disquieting notion. An editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch insisted that it could not be true, although the only evidence he offered was that the implications are too scary. "Rational choice theory — the belief that all humans make decisions based on logical evaluations of cost and benefit — lies at the heart of the democratic political tradition," Alex Mayer wrote. "Without the concept of free will, democracies cannot exist."

In contrast, The New York Times editorialized that "there is tempting evidence of a hereditary component to political choices." (Dan Agin, an emeritus professor of molecular genetics at the University of Chicago, posted an angry response in The Huffington Post, asserting that the evidence is, in fact, rather weak.) The Times went on to make a pre-emptive policy recommendation: "If certain genes make us more receptive to political messages, or more or less likely to vote, then we know the next step society must take: Keep the drugs that target the specific genes out of the hands of political consultants."

News Flash: Teens Make Preggers Pact, Someone Said. Maybe.

News of a supposed "pregnancy pact" among teenage girls in Gloucester, Mass., inspired both screaming headlines and sober analyses of the state of sex education in American schools (see "The Lessons of Gloucester"). The ensuing public discussion inevitably spawned tasteless attempts at humor, including one that took place uncomfortably close to home. This year's Fourth of July Horribles Parade in Beverly Farms, an upscale Boston suburb, included a float that made fun of the mini baby boom, featuring dancing girls with pillows stuffed under their shirts.

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who denies such a pact ever existed, complained that the satirical float "basically triggers a class war between this well-to-do enclave and a working-class city" — namely hers. The Boston Herald responded by comparing pregnancy rates of the two cities and finding little difference, with 118 teen births in Gloucester from 2000 to 2006 and 93 in the slightly larger city of Beverly during the same period.

Meanwhile, Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan, the primary source for the original Time magazine story on the rash of pregnancies, released a statement saying he could not recall using the term "pact" when talking to the reporter. So this fantastic tale of fertility and friendship remains fatherless.

Offline Diary contextualizes and expands on stories posted to Miller-McCune.com, where comments, complaints and questions are not just welcome but mandated by Congress.

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