HIV Rises in Seniors Nationally, While Local Trend is Unclear
Study suggests by 2017, 50 percent of those living with HIV will be 50 and older.
As people with HIV are living longer and seniors are becoming infected more often, the number of people over 50 with HIV is rising nationally.
In 2001, 17 percent of people living with HIV were ages 50 and older, according to the Center for Disease Control. In 2005, the number had risen to 24 percent.
According to an AARP article, Yale Medical School experts estimated that by 2017, people 50 and older will comprise half of those living with HIV.
Locally, the trend is harder to decipher. Jamie Berg, director of the newly merged North Shore Health Department, said local HIV cases are reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which does not provide localized information to municipalities in order to protect the identities of the patients.
Berg said many seniors are becoming more sexually active with products like Viagra making sexual activity more possible and acceptable.
"They need better education, and they need better health care," Berg said. "Doctors underestimate that older adults are at risk for HIV so there’s probably many missed opportunities there."
Statewide, it is clear HIV has become more prevalent in seniors over the past 30 years, but the trend seems to be leveling more recently.
Between 1983 and 2011, an average of 8 percent of reported cases in Wisconsin were in people 50 and older, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. When you look at that number for 2006 to 2010, it jumps to 14 percent.
However, as of September, in 2011 the number steadies with a slight drop to 13 percent.
Without knowing the local demographics of HIV-infected residents, Berg said it's hard for institutions like the North Shore Health Department to target groups who may be more vulnerable, like seniors.
"It’s hard for us to do more outreach because we don’t even know if that’s our problem," Berg said. "All we can do is promote everyone to be tested on a routine basis. If you’re sexually active or using drugs, you can get affected."
Berg said she worries that seniors could be more at-risk because they haven't been as educated about protection. She said many older adults associate condoms with pregnancy, so they seem less important when a couple is too old to become pregnant.
Dana Ley, a volunteer with the Wisconsin HIV Information and Referral Center hotline, said seniors have been calling the center more often with questions about diagnosis and treatment.
"I know that it's getting more common," Ley said. "A lot of seniors are newly single; their spouse dies or they have a divorce. And they might be reentering dating, and they might not have had experience in the past with protection and things like that."
Anyone with questions about HIV can call the hotline at 1-800-334-2437.