October 11, 2011
People older than age 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. HIV/AIDS population. In fact, CDC estimates that by 2015, they will comprise more than half of those infected.
A recent survey by the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council found that two-thirds of HIV/AIDS patients in the region are ages 45 to 64. The council's previous survey, conducted seven years ago, found that most patients were 25 to 44.
Improved treatment has made it possible for patients to live longer lives, yet their survival raises other issues. Older patients may lack support for coping with the disease, and those who have unprotected sex may be at risk of spreading the virus to others.
Two years ago, after diagnosing HIV in persons they never suspected of being infected, doctors at Baltimore's Chase Brexton Health Services began screening all patients for HIV, including those with no risk factors. Eva Hersh, the center's chief medical officer, noted that vaginal dryness resulting from low estrogen levels can put post-menopausal women at risk of vaginal tears through which HIV can enter.
"There is a need for us to prepare for the baby boomers who have HIV," acknowledged Angela Wakhweya, deputy director of the Maryland Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration.
Health officials also are studying how HIV/AIDS affects the aging body. Long-term survivors seem to have increased chances of developing inflammation-induced conditions like kidney, bone, liver, and lung disease. Some are more prone to certain cancers. Medical studies have suggested seniors with HIV/AIDS are three to four times more likely to develop osteoporosis. Stigma, sometimes leading to self-isolation, is a factor as well.
Public health officials are stepping-up their focus on older residents with HIV/AIDS: Support groups targeting these patients have launched, and Baltimore now offers free HIV tests at city senior centers.