Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sex, oldies and HIV drugs


There was some serious stuff in the opening ceremony and first two Monday morning plenaries of the fourth International AIDS Society.

It was left to Brian Gazzard, research director at the department of HIV/GU medicine, Chelsea Westminster Hospital, UK, to inject some humour at the third plenary on ageing and HIV.

Dressed in a wild pink striped coat and equally pink tie, Professor Gazzard pointed out that many scientists simply assumed that either HIV-infected people die young, or older people don't have a sex life.

Not so. In UK alone, there is an increasing percentage of older people – old as in over 55 years – diagnosed as infected with HIV.

Age and sex continue, with the 55-plusers believing there is no need for contraception. And unlike teenagers, wrinklies are seldom targeted for sex education. (Among the few things that get better with age: adherence to HIV treatment.)

Be that as it may, Gazzard reminded scientists that signs of ageing such as dementia, chronic renal disease and liver disease are common to HIV infection as well. Ditto social problems such as isolation and dementia!

Recent research indicates that HIV infection may predispose people to Alzheimers while highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) may contribute to dementia.

There are several questions for scientists to address. Will HIV accelerate the process of ageing? Will HIV accelerate neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers? Will ARVs reverse or accelerate these processes?

Till such questions are answered, Gazzard reminded scientists of British poet John Donne’s solemn pronouncement in 1631: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee/mighty and dreadful for thou are not so.”

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