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Older women with HIV up five-fold in ten years

THE number of women aged between 45 and 56 being treated for HIV has increased five-fold in the UK over the past ten years — partly down to them not practising safe sex.

The shocking figure is revealed in a worldwide study of HIV and ageing in the female population.

Experts believe it is partly because women are living longer with the infection due to advances in medicine.

But one in five new diagnoses is being made in females aged over 50. This, they believe, can be put down to women remaining sexually active later in life — and not using condoms.

With the UK’s rising divorce rate, they have generally come out of long-term relationships and may be having sex with new partners for the first time, unaware of the need for protection. Others have been bereaved. Yet the age group is often left out of HIV prevention, education and research.

They are also less are likely to have been screened for STDs picked up years ago and the infection may have gone unnoticed for a long time.

The PRIME study (Positive Transitions Through the Menopause) looked at the impact of the menopause on the health and well-being of females living with the virus. Sometimes women had trouble distinguishing menopausal symptoms from HIV-related ones, it found.

Sue Mason was 47 and had started going through the menopause when she was diagnosed with HIV.

The mother-of-one had parted from her husband and met a fellow divorcee in a bar, and the pair enjoyed an 18-month romance. They split up but were still good friends when he called in to see her — and broke the news he had been diagnosed with HIV. Sue got tested and found out she too was HIV-positive. She said: ‘I had many misconceptions including the idea that I didn’t need to worry about contraception because pregnancy was no longer a worry. I thought HIV wasn’t something that happened to older, heterosexual women.’

Fortunately Sue, now 60 and working with the London HIV Prevention Programme and the Terrence Higgins Trust, was diagnosed at an early stage.

She said: ‘Thanks to medication I can now live a healthy life, with a normal life expectancy and cannot pass on the infection.’