July 27, 2012
Numerous studies presented at the 19th International AIDS Conference (IAC) show that as people live longer with AIDS, they may confront other health challenges, such as premature aging and an increased risk of heart disease. Also, older people are being newly diagnosed, a trend U.S. health officials say is small but slowly growing.
One-third of the nearly 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S. are over 50, and by 2020 half will be, said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. People 50 or older accounted for 17 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2009, up from 13 percent in 2001, according to CDC data.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that people who are currently diagnosed and treated early can expect a near-normal life span. However, studies suggest that people with HIV/AIDS may be at higher risk for the chronic illnesses of aging, or may experience them earlier.
For example, scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital found evidence linking HIV and higher risk of heart disease due to artery inflammation -- increasing the risk for blood clots that trigger heart attacks, even when the virus was well-controlled and patients were not very old.
Fenton explained: HIV triggers body-wide inflammation to help fight the virus, a process that persists and can quietly damage organs even with good medication. Dr. Amy Justice of Yale University pointed to data from a Veterans Affairs study that showed older people with HIV use more medications for other diseases than their counterparts without HIV.
At the IAC, some older people living with HIV participated in a web-based project called "The Graying of AIDS" to share their knowledge and stories.