November 23, 2005
Responding to a slight increase in state HIV infection rates among adults over age 55, the Illinois Department of Public Health is reaching out to sexually active older adults with a new sex education program, officials said recently. HIV cases among adults over age 55 increased from 40 in 2001 to 132 in 2005, according to the department.
Experts said two main reasons for the rate change is that people are living longer with the virus and that impotence drugs are affording older adults a more sexually active life. State education programs have recently started targeting older residents in venues such as senior apartment buildings, community programs, churches and faith-based groups.
HIV prevention is a tough topic to broach with a group that does not see itself at risk, said Doris Turner, chief of the department's Center for Minority Health Services. But older adults have the same risk factors an younger people, such as unprotected sex with multiple partners, including homosexual partners, and intravenous drug use, she said.
Health advocates say public health officials and medical providers have overlooked the issue, and more resources should be dedicated to educating older adults about risky sexual behaviors. Few county health departments have prevention programs tailored to seniors.
"It's certainly not an issue that's on the radar screen," said David Munar, associate director for policy and communications for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "It's really important to expand these specific education [programs] and services for HIV prevention and management."