HIV is on the rise among older women as they remain sexually active without using protection.
There has been a five-fold increase in women aged between 45 and 56 receiving care for HIV in the past ten years, a study has found.
Experts put the increase down to the rising divorce rate and a more liberal attitude to sex in general — yet this group is often left out of HIV prevention, education and research.
People who have come out of long marriages or been through bereavement may have had unprotected sex without considering the risks.
They are also less likely to have been screened for STDs or infections picked up through an act of infidelity.
The PRIME study (Positive Transitions Through the Menopause) is one of the largest studies of HIV and ageing in women globally.
It looked at the impact of the menopause on the health and well-being of women living with the virus.
Sometimes women had difficulty distinguishing menopausal symptoms from HIV-related symptoms.
Dr Shema Tariq, who was the lead researcher said: “HIV treatment has advanced to the point where people are living long and healthy lives with HIV.
“If you look at women in particular, over the last decade we’ve seen a five-fold increase in the number of women living with HIV in their 40s and 50s.”
HIV is treated with antiretroviral medication, which works by stopping the virus replicating in the body.
This means viral loads are reduced to undetectable levels – protecting a person’s health and preventing the infection from being passed on.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.
These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV. They include:
- Sore throat
- Body rash
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Swollen glands
After this illness, which normally lasts one to two weeks, HIV sufferers will have no symptoms for up to 10 years – during which time they will look and feel well.
However, the virus will continue to cause progressive damage to a person’s immune system.
Only once the immune system is already severely damaged will the person show new symptoms. These include:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Night sweats
- Skin problems
- Recurrent infections
- Serious, life-threatening illnesses