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83-Year-Old Man Diagnosed with HIV; Risks Not Confined to the Young

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday July 18, 2021
Originally published on July 17, 2021

One of the stereotypes about HIV is that older people are not susceptible because they are not as sexually active as the young or as likely to inject illicit drugs. But the recent HIV diagnosis of an 83-year-old man — thought to be one of the oldest people diagnosed as living with the virus — shows that risks remain real even for the elderly.

The man in question lives in Spain and was diagnosed in 2019, "after enduring a fever and unexplained weight loss for a month," reported.

The standard treatment of antiretroviral drugs arrested the progress of the disease and allowed the man's immune system to recover. The patient, now 85, is reportedly in good health once again.

But a further mystery involves how the man contracted the virus, the article said. The man "has been married for 30 years, with his wife testing negative for HIV," and he "has denied having sex outside of his marriage or injecting illicit drugs."

Dr. Enrique Garcia Carus, the lead author of a case study on the older HIV patient, said, "This case serves as a reminder that the elderly are not immune to HIV infection."

The idea of older people being less vulnerable to HIV persists among both medical professionals and the general public, the article indicated, despite the prevalence of new infections among older demographics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "In 2018, over half (51%) of people in the United States (US) and dependent areas with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older.

"Though new HIV diagnoses are declining among people aged 50 and older, around 1 in 6 HIV diagnoses in 2018 were in this group," text at the CDC website adds.

This is not an automatic death sentence, of course. "People aged 50 and older with diagnosed HIV are living longer, healthier lives because of effective HIV treatment," the CDC went on to note.

The breakdown of transmission avenues for older people reads much like that for transmission among younger people. The CDC's data shows that in 66% of the new HIV cases among men over 50, the virus was transmitted through sexual contact with other men. Heterosexual contact accounted for 21% of the new cases, while the injection of drugs accounted for 9%.

Among women over 50, 86% of new HIV infections resulted from heterosexual contact, while injection drug use accounted for 14% of new cases.

"Many HIV risk factors are the same for people of any age, but older people are less likely to get tested for HIV," the National Institutes of Health reported. And though treatment with antiretrovirals is the standard approach regardless of age, certain risk factors can increase among older people.

"For example, age-related thinning and dryness of the vagina may increase the risk of HIV in older women," the NIH noted. "Older people may also be less likely to use condoms during sex because they are less concerned about pregnancy."

Additionally, older HIV patients are more likely to have additional health concerns.

"Many older people have conditions such as heart disease or cancer that can complicate HIV treatment," the NIH pointed out.

That means that prevention — the best approach for all age groups — is, arguably, even more critical for older people. Efforts to educate the public about the facts around HIV, for all age brackets, remain crucial.

"Healthcare providers... should be encouraged to screen patients of all ages for HIV," Dr. Carus emphasized. "Moreover, older adults also need to be educated about preventing risky behaviors and to address HIV testing and beliefs."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.