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HIV, AIDS, and Older Adults

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HIV, AIDS, and Older People

From the National Institute on Aging

Grace was a happily married woman with a family and a career. After more than 20 years of marriage, her husband left her. After her divorce, she began dating George, a close family friend she had known for years. They became lovers. Because she was beyond childbearing years, she wasn't worried about getting pregnant and didn't think about using condoms. And because she had known George for years, it didn't occur to her to ask about his sexual history or if he had been tested for HIV.

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At age 55 she had a routine medical checkup. Her blood tested positive for HIV. George had infected her. She will spend the rest of her life worrying that the virus would develop into life-threatening AIDS -- that any cough, sneeze, rash, or flu would, in fact, indicate AIDS and perhaps the beginning of the end of her life.

What Are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (short for human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that kills cells in your immune system, the system that fights diseases. Once your immune system is weakened to the point where you get certain types of life-threatening diseases, infections, and cancers, you have what is called AIDS (short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. If there's any chance that you might be infected with HIV, you should be tested, because now there are drugs you can take to help your body keep the HIV in check and fight off AIDS.

Many people do not have any symptoms when they are first infected with HIV. It can take as little as a few weeks for minor flu-like symptoms to show up or as long as 10 years or more for more serious symptoms. Symptoms can include headache, chronic cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of energy, loss of appetite and weight loss, frequent fevers and sweats, frequent yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores on certain parts of your body, and short-term memory loss. People age 50 and older may not recognize HIV symptoms in themselves because they think what they are feeling and experiencing is part of normal aging.

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