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Laurie Burkitt, China Realtime Report: China’s Finds (Another) HIV-Positive Septuagenarian

China’s Finds (Another) HIV-Positive Septuagenarian
by Laurie Burkitt, August 8, 2011

A Chinese man approaching 80 years old was recently diagnosed with HIV, shedding light on a segment of the Chinese population said to be overlooked by the country’s AIDS education efforts.

According to a recent report from state-run media Xinhua News Agency, the elderly man, a widow in the city of Wuhan in central China, had no record of blood transfusions and likely contracted the virus through unprotected sex. He was admitted to Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital with a persistent fever and diagnosed Friday with HIV, Xinhua said.

HIV diagnosis in China’s aging population is becoming increasingly common. This year, 14.9% of newly diagnosed HIV cases were over the age of 50, up from 7.8% a year earlier, the report said, citing a recent study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Surprising as the case of the Wuhan man may be, he is not the oldest person in China to contract the virus. A Guangzhou health official told the China Daily last year that it was tracking a 94-year-old man who had been found to be HIV positive.

Xinhua said the senior population is becoming more sexually active as health conditions have improved and many have opted for more promiscuous lifestyles.

China has taken steps in recent years to improve HIV prevention. But the rise of HIV in the aging signals a major oversight in the country’s AIDS education and awareness programs, which have typically focused on younger generations, homosexuals, sex workers and migrant workers from rural regions, Xinhua said.

Some experts say the rise in the aging population’s HIV rates can be attributed to a cheap commercial sex industry that attracts China’s older population, China Daily said. Older HIV patients claim they’ve paid for sex because their wives had either died or lacked sex drive post-menopause, the newspaper said, citing the case of one HIV-positive 70 year-old man who said he though he’d contracted the disease by having unprotected sex with women at a “sauna.”

There are an estimated 4 million to 10 million female sex workers in China, according to the China Daily, citing a paper from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Around 6% of the male population ranging 20 to 64 pay for sex from these women, the report said.

China is not the only country with elderly AIDS and HIV patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are older than 50. By 2015, half of those in the U.S. living with HIV will be older than 50.

While the prevalence of older AIDS patients can be attributed to successful treatment that has enabled many with the disease to live longer lives, there is still a large population of older Americans who contract the virus annually, according to the Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration on Aging. Around 15% of new HIV/AIDS cases occur among people 50 and older.

– Laurie Burkitt. Follow her on Twitter @lburkitt

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