HIV and AIDS
Like younger people, senior citizens are also at risk for contracting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This virus damages the immune system, the body’s defense against infection and disease, and causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is transferred from one person to another through the exchange of bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and vaginal fluid.
People can contract HIV at any age by having unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone infected. People who are typically at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS include:
- Sexually active individuals who do not use latex or polyurethane condoms
- People who are unaware of partner’s drug and sexual history, some people find it helpful to ask the following questions:
- Have you been tested for HIV/AIDS?
- Have you had multiple sexual partners?
- Have you shared needles (this can include drug users as well as anyone who uses needles on a regular basis such as people with diabetes)?
- People who have had a blood transfusion or operation in a developing country
- People who have had a blood transfusion in the U.S. between 1978 an 1985
When people first become infected with HIV, they do not experience any symptoms. After a few weeks, people may exhibit flu-like symptoms. More serious symptoms may occur about a decade after contracting HIV. People who have HIV complain of headache, cough, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss, fevers and sweating, repeated yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores in the mouth or on the body, and short term memory loss.
When thinking about getting tested for HIV/AIDS, you should remember the following facts:
- It takes 3-6 months for the virus to be detected in the blood
- Your local healthcare provider or a local hospital or clinic can perform an HIV/AIDS screening
- Counseling is usually provided along with HIV/AIDS screenings
- Tests are usually private and can be performed without giving a name
- You can test your blood at home using a test called the Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System which is available at drug stores
While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are medications that are used to treat symptoms and spread of the virus. Doctors commonly use a combination of drugs called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), which have greatly reduced the number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS. People can prevent the likelihood of contracting HIV/AIDS by:
- Making sure all sexual partners have been tested and been shown free of HIV
- Using condoms
- Not sharing needles
- Getting tested for HIV if you or your partner had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985 or received an operation in a developing country
Senior Citizens and HIV/AIDS
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in senior citizens is increasing. Some people speculate that there are even more senior citizens with HIV/AIDS, because seniors are not typically tested for HIV/AIDS or they may confuse symptoms with the normal effects of aging. Senior citizens seem to know less about HIV/AIDS and how it is spread than younger people. This is partially because healthcare workers and senior citizens do not usually discuss HIV/AIDS together.
Women and people of color are reported as more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than other demographics. Reports also show that most of these cases are due to sex with infected partners. Because women live longer than men, they may be seeking sexual activity at older ages with less anxiety about becoming pregnant, thus being less likely to use a condom. Less protection and more cuts and tears that can result from vaginal dryness that plagues older women; this can lead to an increased susceptibility for contracting HIV/AIDS.