Health officials urge routine HIV testing up to age 64

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2013

“Have sex? Age is not a condom.”

The message appears on posters featuring mature-looking models and another piece of advice: “Talk to your doctor about your sex life.”

The posters, designed by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, are part of an outreach effort to encourage older Americans to practice safe sex and get tested for HIV.

New infections among people older than 50 amounted to nearly 11 percent of new infections from 2006 to 2009, according to an estimate prepared for the HIV Incidence Surveillance Group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine testing for everyone ages 13 to 64.

Yet older people may be mistakenly considered at less risk, said Ann Bruce, a caseworker at the Spokane Regional Health District: “ ‘Well, let’s see, you’re a gay young male. Let’s test you.’ But what about a middle-aged soccer mom?”

Meanwhile, unsafe sex practices often go unmentioned by primary care doctors, according to a paper on HIV and older Americans published recently in the American Journal of Public Health.

Dr. Daniel Coulston treats patients with HIV at Rockwood Clinic. He said at least 30 percent of his patients are 50 or older.

Some patients seem to be in denial about their own risky behavior, he said.

“And then I see the occasional wife or girlfriend of someone who’s a closeted bisexual who gets infected and gets them infected, and they have no idea what’s been going on behind their back,” Coulston said.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 people infected with HIV don’t know it.

“Expanding testing would be one of the keys to preventing new infections,” said Lisa St. John, who runs the HIV and AIDS program at the health district. “If we can identify a new infection early, not only is that person likely to have a much higher likelihood of a long and healthy life, but … we could be preventing multitudes of new HIV infections with every new diagnosis.”

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