A new study has found that one in every six persons diagnosed with HIV is over the age of 50 years. This new study was published yesterday (26th September 2017) in the journal Lancet HIV.
Anatomically correct HIV Virus floating in the bloodstream. 3D Illustration. Image Credit: Spectral-Design / Shutterstock
Statistics show that over the last decade (between 2004 and 2015) the diagnosis of HIV among populations has increased by 2.1 percent yearly among those in their fifties. In 2015, the study showed that the persons with HIV and over the age of 50 were 17.3 percent of all the new cases of HIV diagnosed in Europe. Sexual health programs are mainly targeted towards younger populations at present.
According to experts, this age group should also be recognized to be at risk and these programs should also address this age group. Lara Tavoschi, a scientific officer at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), who led this latest study, said that the new findings show the “new direction” in which the HIV epidemic is moving towards. She said the older adults are at risk. They are infected mostly via heterosexual routes she said and this calls for increasing awareness among this population.
For this study the team looked at HIV surveillance data from 31 countries. And they collated the data in the European Surveillance System between 2004 and 2015. The ECDC analyzed all the new HIV cases among persons over the age of 15 years. They found that the rates of diagnosis of HIV among persons over the age of 50 have increased in 16 countries that include Germany, Ireland and Belgium. The rates were highest in Estonia, Latvia and Malta. In these countries 7 new cases were detected per 100,000 older adults by 2015. In these countries the numbers for those aged between 15 and 49 were also discouraging. There has been a decrease in numbers of new HIV cases among these older adults in only one country – Portugal. There was a decrease in new HIV cases among younger populations below 50 years such as in United Kingdom and Norway. In the UK and Norway however the rise of new cases of HIV was 3.6 percent yearly. Tavoschi said this is reflection that awareness campaigns are not targeting older populations.
Targets for HIV prevention should be to promote HIV testing and also reduce the stigma surrounding HIV. Increasing awareness regarding condom use and safe sex practices and sexually transmitted infections is also an important part of HIV prevention. Tavoschi explained that there is a stigma related to sex lives of older adults and it is assumed that this age group does not indulge in sex. This is one of the reasons why this age group is not targeted she said. Most health care providers do not speak about safe sex and sexual health with older adults she said. Older women are more at risk than younger women she said. The reason behind this is not clear. Also those over 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced HIV disease and are likely to be infected for longer without being diagnosed. ECDC, for example analyzed the levels of CD4 immune cells that are damaged by HIV and are markers of the extent of the disease. They noted that 47 percent were diagnosed late and 63 percent of the adults over 50 delayed going to their clinic to be diagnosed. Compared to this the delay of getting diagnosed was seen in 43 percent of those under 50. Tavoschi said not knowing that a person is HIV positive endangers others by transmitting the infection unknowingly.
Study author Dr Anastasia Pharris said that HIV is associated with younger people and this study changes that notion.
Almost 37 million people worldwide are living with HIV AIDS as per statistics. Most of these cases are in the underdeveloped and developing nations where there is little access to testing and prevention. HIV epidemic is also widely prevalent in the developed nations and has been difficult to curb.