October 13, 2009
New HIV/AIDS cases among people age 50 and older are increasing in New Mexico, according to state Department of Health data. Among 165 new cases in New Mexico in 2007, 21 percent were in people ages 50-plus, the only group besides those ages 20-29 to have an increase in diagnoses since 2005.
"The numbers certainly suggest a substantial proportion of cases in the baby boomer age group," said Dr. Steve Jenison, medical director of the department's Infectious Diseases Bureau.
Effective treatments have lowered the profile of HIV/AIDS for many older residents, said Dr. Elaine Thomas, professor of infectious diseases at the University of New Mexico. "HIV is not really on the radar for a lot of people over age 50. People just aren't as knowledgeable about AIDS as they should be," said Thomas, who also directs the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center.
"People in their 50s and 60s who are dating for the first time in 20 years don't necessarily have the language to talk about safe sex," said Andrew Gans, the state health department's HIV/AIDS prevention program manager. "People are wondering, 'In my 50s, are condoms relevant?' And the answer is, 'Yes, they are.'"
Despite the uptick in diagnoses, many practitioners are still reluctant to suggest an HIV test for 50-plus patients, said Thomas. "A lot of providers aren't comfortable asking someone who looks like their mother to take an AIDS test," she said. But providers can cite CDC recommendations for routinely testing all patients ages 13-64, she added.