HIV Infection

HIV Infection in Women Over 50

The number of cases of AIDS (the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which is caused by HIV infection) in women older than 50 years of age is on the rise. In a recent 5 year period, the number of new HIV cases among older women increased by 40%. In other words, older women can get HIV. It’s not just a disease that affects young people or drug users or gay men. HIV/AIDS weakens a person’s ability to fight infections and cancer. Symptoms of HIV vary widely, and may not show up for several months or years after a person is infected with HIV.

A person may even have HIV or AIDS without knowing it until they get HIV testing. Some of the symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS are: fatigue, weight loss, fevers and sweats, skin rashes, yeast infections, mouth, genital, or anal sores from herpes infections. There is no HIV cure at this time although medications can delay the onset of AIDS.

  • HIV/AIDS is not just a disease of young people or gay men, anyone at any age can get HIV/AIDS.
  • Because of decreased lubrication, thinning of delicate vaginal skin, and skin tearing, HIV infection can occur more easily in older women than younger women.
  • Almost 30% of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are over the age of 50 years, and the rate of HIV infections is increasing among people in their sixties and seventies.
  • Many older women who are dating think that because they can no longer get pregnant they do not need to ask a male partner to use a condom. Sadly, this is the way in which many older women end up getting HIV.
  • Often, doctors are embarrassed or don’t think to ask older adults if they are sexually active or would like to be tested for HIV, so many cases of HIV infection go undetected.
  • Older adults are much more likely than younger people to have full-blown AIDS by the time they discover they're infected.

Facts About HIV

  • HIV and AIDS are two different things. HIV is the name of a virus—the human immunodeficiency virus. The term AIDS is short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A person can carry HIV for many years without developing AIDS.
  • HIV is transmitted through specific body fluids—blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. These fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane (such as the vagina) or damaged tissue (such as a microscopic tear on or near the vagina). Although HIV is often transmitted though vaginal or anal sex, you can also get HIV through oral sex.
  • HIV can also be transmitted through shared needles. (For example, people with diabetes who inject insulin or draw blood to test glucose levels might share needles.)
  • Although HIV can be spread though blood, there is no evidence that mosquito bites can transmit HIV, even in areas where there are many HIV-infected persons and lots of mosquitoes. In fact, when mosquitoes bite, they don’t inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten.
  • Having another STD such as chlamydia or herpes can increase a person's risk of becoming infected with HIV.
  • Latex condoms are the best protection we have in preventing HIV transmission, if used correctly and used every time. If an allergy to latex is a problem, a polyurethane condom can be used.
  • HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a swimming pool or hot tub, a doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets.

Are You at Risk for HIV/AIDS?

You could be if:

  • You are sexually active and do not use a latex or polyurethane condom. You can get HIV/AIDS from having sex with someone who has HIV. The virus passes from the infected person to his or her partner in blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. During sex, HIV can get into your body through any opening, such as a tear or cut in the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth. Latex condoms can help prevent an infected person from transferring the HIV virus to you. (Natural condoms do not protect against HIV/AIDS as well as the latex and polyurethane types do.)
  • You do not know your partner's drug and sexual history. What you don't know can hurt you. Even though it may be hard to do, it's very important to ask your partner about his or her sexual history and drug use. Here are some questions to ask:
    • Has your partner been tested for HIV/AIDS?
    • Has he or she had a number of different sex partners?
    • Has your partner ever had unprotected sex with someone who has shared needles? Has he or she injected drugs or shared needles with someone else? Drug users are not the only people who might share needles.
  • You have had a blood transfusion or an operation in a developing country at any time.
  • You had a blood transfusion in the United States between 1978 and 1985.

Symptoms of HIV and Testing and Treatment in Older Adults

If you have been infected with HIV, you will not notice symptoms right away. After a few weeks, flu-like symptoms can occur. In weeks or months, more serious symptoms may develop. Symptoms of HIV include headache, cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of energy, loss of appetite, weight loss, fevers and sweats, repeated yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores in the mouth or on other parts of the body, and short-term memory loss.

Some of the early symptoms of HIV infection (for example, memory loss, fatigue, shortness of breath, and weight loss) may be mistaken for signs of aging. That is why it is so important to get tested.

Right now, there is no cure for HIV and AIDS, but there is treatment. HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy, can prolong life, especially with early detection of HIV infection.

Getting Tested for HIV

Your health care provider can test your blood for HIV/AIDS. If you don't have a health care provider, contact a hospital or health center for a list of test sites. Health agencies in most cities offer HIV testing. You can also check HIVtest.org to find a testing site.

Many health care providers who test for HIV also can provide counseling.

In most states, the tests are private, and you can choose to take the test without giving your name.

One home HIV test is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System, made by the Home Access Health Corporation, is available in drugstores or online.

It can take 3 to 6 months after infection for the test to detect the presence of the virus.

Read more about other common STDs: