Older Adults Discover HIV/AIDS Isn’t A Young Person’s Disease

March 01, 2020
by John Kelly, MD
Older Adults Discover HIV/AIDS Isn’t A Young Person’s Disease

Ashley, 59, was hospitalized for appendicitis, but never suspected she had HIV, and neither did her doctors. She said the doctors told her she had a virus and that was it. To her, it was unreal that she had the one virus that people were deathly afraid of.

According to the 59-year-old, she caught the disease from unprotected sex, and since she was late in being diagnosed, the virus had begun damaging her immune system.

And Ashley’s experience is far from uncommon.

The Public Health England reported that six in 10 people over the age of 50 were diagnosed in the later stages of the disease in 2018. Healthcare professionals say the late diagnosis issue is the result of both fallacies and stigma that people over 50 do not have sex, perhaps due to marriage or a recent divorce.

Even though women can’t get pregnant anymore, they feel they are safe.

Ashley said HIV and other similar illnesses are a disease for young people. She said that’s simply not true!

According to the statistics from the PHE Victoria Derbyshire program, STD rates in people 45 and older rose by a third in the last five years.

PHE sexual health expert Norah O’Brien said older people tend not to think they are at risk for HIV, which is a sentiment Karen Norton, 63, shares.

Norton contracted the virus a few years ago while in Africa. She said most older adults believe they are invincible and they can’t get the disease.

Even professionals believe a 50-something-year-old does not have this illness. It’s an assumption that most people have about the over 50-year-old crowd.

Karen said it would be hard for children to grasp the idea that their parent has HIV/AIDS. It was a long time before she even acknowledged her disease for fear of judgment. She said it was like holding a dirty secret.

Karen said a person who has unprotected sex can become infected with HIV.

According to the latest UK figures, the number of people with HIV dramatically dropped since 2012, especially among bisexual and gay men.

The Terrence Higgins Trust said the focus is necessary on communities that are not thought to be at risk for HIV.

Aled Osbourne, with Bristol-based charity Brigstowe, said people over 50 are wrong to assume that HIV is a gay person’s disease. He said this is the generation that grew up during the 80s and 90s when the HIV/AIDS campaigns were in full effect, and they haven’t received the right information. Osbourne said, in the 80s and 90s, HIV was a death sentence. Today, it’s not.

People are living with HIV thanks to effective treatments and do not pass om the virus.

Those who are taking anti-retroviral drugs have a life expectancy that’s similar to the general population. However, the number of late-stage infections has risen so much that it increases the death risk compared to those who are diagnosed early on.

Ashley said she has no real issue being HIV positive, but the delay in finding it is what makes her bitter because of the damage it did.


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