mike barber, canada.com: u waterloo researchers issue HIV/AIDS alert to older citizens visiting florida (0087)

Snowbirds told to beware of HIV/AIDS in Florida
call for testing

NOVEMBER 18, 2009

Canadians who spend their winters in Florida [nicknamed “snowbirds” —rk] are being warned about the rising rates of HIV/AIDS among the state’s older residents.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo [Ontario —rk] are studying HIV/AIDS infection among Florida’s elderly and the potential consequences for snowbirds travelling there from Canada.

Graduate student Katie Mairs and Sandra Bullock, a professor of gerontology, found in their small-scale study that fewer than one in five snowbirds — Canadians older than 50 who spent at least one month of the last year in Florida [my bolding —rk] — had been tested for sexually transmitted infections or HIV.

And most of those who had been tested did so for insurance reasons, said Bullock, meaning the number of older Canadians actively seeking out their sexual-health status is “relatively low.”

Mairs presented the findings at a conference on HIV research in Toronto on Tuesday.

Bullock said the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among those older than 50 is highest in southern Florida, where many Canadians spend part or all of their winters.

People older than 40 also make up the segment with the fastest-growing incidence rate — meaning new cases — of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

“HIV and sexually transmitted infections are an issue that seniors, particularly once they’re out there dating and meeting new people again, need to be aware of and consider,” said Bullock, “because after years of being in marriages . . . they’re out in a different world than they were before.”

Bullock said that because HIV and sexually transmitted infections are still perceived as young people’s illnesses, older people are less likely to use condoms due to the minimal chances of getting their partners pregnant.

And those who came of age during the sexually liberated 1960s and 1970s are now retiring, often looking south for their winter plans.

Added to the carefree attitude many display while on vacation, the combination could prove dangerous.

“Anywhere where people are wearing less clothes, and are out there being more comfortable, they are more likely to have sexual interactions,” said Bullock. “(Snowbirds) are going down with a . . . mind frame, what we call a kind of a timeout, a what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas sort of situation.”

Few substantive studies looking at the sexual activity and health of seniors have been performed in Canada, said Bullock, so it’s difficult to quantify what levels of sexually transmitted infections there are among that age group.

A 2004 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found the over-50 set had the largest increase in prevalence of HIV from the height of the AIDS panic in the mid-1980s to 2002.

Bullock said the rising rates mean physicians should be talking to their aging patients about their sexual activity. She also pointed to the National Population Health Survey, which only poses sexual health questions to those younger than 50, as an area that could be improved.

“We need to get a dialogue going where people are comfortable speaking about sex and sexual-risk issues,” she said, “so that we don’t see a growing risk of HIV infection here as they have already seen in the southern states.”

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