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Condom dispute highlights dangers of HIV among seniors

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QUEENSBURY — A dispute over free condoms at a senior center highlighted the idea that AIDS can no longer be considered a young person’s disease.

On Tuesday, the Glens Falls Post-Star reported that Queensbury senior center director Kathryn Cramer was under fire from the center’s board president, former cardiologist David Schwenker, after she put out bowls of free condoms and educational materials at the center’s bathrooms.


Cramer told the paper she had been struck by the risk of HIV and AIDS among seniors in the area. She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Schwenker, president of the center’s board, told the paper he took issue with Cramer putting the condoms out without board authorization and was worried that providing seniors with condoms “creates difficult discussions.” He also questioned state statistics on the spread of HIV among seniors. He, too, did not return a message Tuesday.

Overall, the number of people in New York State living with HIV or AIDS and the number of new diagnoses fell to record lows in 2016. But half the population living with HIV/AIDS is older than 50, and in the greater Capital Region recent data is showing a higher level of several worrisome factors among seniors with HIV/AIDS.

This increase is, in part, very good news: People who were previously infected are living longer thanks to medical advances, according to Jim Tesoriero, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Health’s AIDS Institute.

In the 17-county region that includes the Capital Region, 56 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS were 50 or older in 2015, he said.

But older patients make up a large percentage of new diagnoses, as well. In 2015, the most recent year available, 30 percent of new HIV/AIDs patients in the Albany region were over 50 years old, according to state data. The state average is closer to 20 percent of new patients, Tesoriero said.

Tesoriero pointed out another concerning factor: In 2015, 45 percent of the seniors diagnosed were diagnosed with HIV and AIDS concurrently. That means they were infectious and showed symptoms for some time before seeking treatment. The statewide average for those who received a concurrent diagnosis was just 19 percent.

Tesoriero noted that because the raw number of people diagnosed each year is so small, it’s hard to draw clear trends on whether the epidemic is increasing or decreasing among seniors. In 2015, 20 seniors in the 17-county region contracted HIV/AIDS.

Johanne Morne, director of the state Department of Health’s AIDS Institute, said the state in 2010 mandated that primary care providers provide HIV testing to all patients 13 to 64 years old. Last year, they recognized the need for more seniors to be tested and removed the upper age limit.

Morne supported the idea of providing condoms and educational materials at places like senior centers because seniors may be unfamiliar with the risks of unprotected sex and HIV.

“What better place to offer this?” she said. “It’s a place that they already identify as supportive.”

Decisions like Kramer’s to promote safe sexual behavior can help combat any further spread of HIV among seniors, said Dr. Darrell Wheeler, the vice provost for public engagement and the dean of the School of Social Welfare at the state University at Albany.

Wheeler said the approach was no different than providing seniors with information about diabetes or cardiovascular health.

National data backs up the idea that seniors need that information. A 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that about 6 percent of seniors used condoms during sex. And multiple surveys at both the state and national level have shown skyrocketing levels of sexually transmitted infections among seniors.

“It’s about healthy maturing,” Wheeler said. “We make it too much about sex only. … This is about healthy aging.”

As for the disagreement in Queensbury, Kramer’s actions seem to have found reception among her clients.

The Post Star reported that out of the 1,000 condoms she collected for the center, 750 of them were gone in 10 months.

Article source: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Condom-dispute-highlights-dangers-of-HIV-among-12407465.php

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