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Elderly and HIV: living longer (and well) with the virus is already a reality

With advances in treatment and prevention, it is possible to have healthy aging even after STI diagnosis

Stereotypes created around people with STIs (sexually transmitted infections) have been around for many years. Despite the frequent association of these diseases with the young population, the number of elderly people with conditions such as HIV has been growing over time.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO), if the number of HIV cases follows the same growth rate that it has been presenting in recent years, it is possible that, in 2030, 70% of the world’s population aged 60 and over is infected with the virus.

Thus, it is important that this group is viewed differently, understanding that age is not an obstacle to being a person vulnerable to this type of disease. Prevention and orientation campaigns on the use of condoms, usually directed at young people, should also target the elderly, serving as an alert to the risks of contracting HIV.

HIV risk in the elderly

According to Paula Massaroni PeƧanha Pietrobom, an infectious disease specialist at Hospital Edmundo Vasconcelos, currently, the risk of the population aging with HIV is linked to a greater susceptibility to develop other chronic diseases, such as:

  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Altered cholesterol
  • Dementia
  • In addition, it is possible that the elderly population develop health problems related to drugs used to treat HIV. Even with extremely safe and efficient options on the market, every type of medicine can have side effects.

    “As an example, in the first treatment scheme, it is possible to have two classic effects, but which we try to avoid: nephropathy, which can impair the functioning of the kidneys, and osteoporosis. As they are more prevalent diseases in the elderly population, we have to maintain a periodic monitoring also regarding these side effects “, explains the doctor.

    HIV and life expectancy

    The appearance of HIV in the lives of the elderly does not always happen exclusively during this period. Nowadays, with advances in medicine, it is possible to find people who contracted the virus years ago and were able to have a healthy and long-lived old age.

    “Unlike the scenario of the 1980s, when the disease led to AIDS, severe immunosuppression, and deaths in young people, today, those who live with the virus are able to achieve a life expectancy similar to those who do not have this problem. With early diagnosis and good adherence to treatment throughout life, anyone can live with the virus “, says the infectologist.

    This new reality has caused the number of deaths caused by the virus to decrease considerably over time. According to the Ministry of Health, in 2018, 10,980 deaths from basic AIDS were recorded – a number that represents a decrease of 22.8% when compared to 2014.

    “It is not uncommon to find patients in the office for more than 20 years with the disease and living very well. In addition to this context, we have some infections in this age group that increasingly maintain an active sex life, and therefore implying risks, including HIV “, says Paula Pietrobom.

    Sexuality and the elderly

    Some social contexts must be considered when analyzing the sexuality of the elderly population. O incentive to use condoms it hadn’t been a habit for a few years, causing many people to grow up with little information about the importance of condoms during sex.

    In addition to beginning to be seen as a sexually active group, it is important that stereotypes are broken and conversations about the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are held with people in this age group. Thus, the chances of a early diagnosis increase, making treatment more effective.

    “If the infection happens, it is no reason not to be happy. It is necessary, once again, to break the prejudice, and understand that it is not a disease restricted to any specific group, but rather a chronic disease. The elderly usually have more comorbidities and, therefore, attention is needed due to the increased risk of undesirable consequences “, explains the infectologist.

    The specialist also warns of the importance of including periodic examinations in the routine, as well as putting into practice basic care in daily life, with a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Thus, it is possible that there is a medical control that allows aging without major complications.

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