About AIDS

"Grandpa has AIDS?" Such a concept is probably unthinkable to most Americans, but recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that this may be true more often than anticipated and also true with increasing frequency. They document a 22% rise in the number of people over age 50 diagnosed with fully developed AIDS, compared with a 9% increase in the 13-49 age group in the same period.

We have always thought of HIV/AIDS primarily as a disease of younger people, so it's difficult for seniors to think of themselves as being at risk, even though they may be engaging in activities which permit infection.

To further complicate the picture, many of the early symptoms of HIV disease and even of full-blown AIDS may be confused with the normal effects of aging. And since most doctors don't think of seniors as being at risk (and are extremely unlikely to inquire into an older patient's intimate behaviors), symptoms may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until the disease is substantially advanced.

All this is another example of the danger of America's obsession with "risk groups" -- typically thought of as gay men -- instead of focusing on the true problem, which is risk behavior. Anyone who engages in unprotected sexual intercourse outside of a long-term monogamous relationship or who shares drug needles is at risk for HIV. Chronological maturity is not a defense.

-- Sandy Bartlett, Community Information/Education Coordinator
AIDS Services of Austin

ASA Info Line: 458-AIDS, E-mail: ASA@fc.net

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