What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
General Information from Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) on HIV
HIV Basics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
HIV Resources and Information from HIV.gov
HIV in Older Adults
The National HIV and Aging Resource Center at GMHC reports that in 2020 more half (58%) of people living with HIV in the United States are now over the age of 50. (Presentation: HIV and the Aging Adult Population PDF.) Older adults living with HIV include both long-term survivors - those who were diagnosed before 1996 when effective treatments became available, and individuals who have more recently contracted HIV.
Older individuals living with HIV encounter increased risks of certain health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, liver disease (including hepatitis B and hepatitis C), certain cancers, and HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). Older adults living with HIV also experience the effects of stigma, trauma, loneliness, social isolation, grief, and loss.
According to HIV.gov, older adults living with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) may experience deficits in attention, language, motor skills, memory and other cognitive functions that can affect quality of life. Depression and psychological distress may also be experienced.
While there is no cure for HIV, it is treatable and older adults can manage this chronic health condition. Older adults living with HIV who stay in care and adhere to their medications can live long, healthy, and productive lives.
While the CDC doesn’t specifically call on older adults over 65 to be tested for HIV, advocates and healthcare providers recommend anyone who has engaged in HIV risk behaviors, regardless of age, get tested.
Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP) - Is an Evidence-Based Program (EBP) that holds small group classes that are highly participative, where mutual support and success build the participants' confidence in their ability to manage their health and maintain active and fulfilling lives. This program is available to PA's AAA network under the Self-Management Resource Center (SMRC) license. This is offered at 40 AAAs across 52 counties according to the AAAs 2020-2021 Health & Wellness Annual Plans. HIV is a chronic condition that can be addressed during the workshop sessions.
Positive Self-Management: Living a Healthy Life with HIV - Is a six-session Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, that will introduce people living with HIV to strategies for better managing their health as they age. Topics will include: symptoms and side effects management, healthcare provider communication, healthy diets and dealing with isolation, stress and frustration.
This program is presented by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the LGBT Elder Initiative at William Way through Title IIID funds received from the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. This program was originally developed at Stanford University and is now owned by Self-Management Resource Center, Inc.
Self-Management Resource Center - Chronic Disease Self-Management Program
Since 2006, the CDC has recommended that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force supported the CDC's recommendation by making HIV screening a "Grade A" recommendation. This means that routine screening for HIV is covered by most private and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) also requires that Grade A recommendations be covered by private insurance without cost sharing. For this reason, DOH encourages you to discuss routine HIV testing with your primary healthcare provider as a standard of care.
The only way to be sure about your HIV status is to get an HIV test. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to keep you and your partner(s) healthy. A variety of testing technologies such as blood-based, oral-based, oral fluid-based, and rapid testing are used.
Living with undiagnosed HIV compromises the immune system and increases the probability of transmitting HIV to others. Routine testing ensures that HIV is diagnosed promptly and that individuals who receive a positive test can be referred to an HIV care specialist who can prescribe the medications to effectively treat HIV.
Find an HIV test in Pennsylvania
The PA Department of Health, Division of HIV Disease, works with community partners to ensure that a full array of HIV prevention and care services are available and accessible throughout the Commonwealth for people infected with, and affected by, HIV and AIDS and those at-risk for contracting HIV. The Division is organized into three program sections: the Prevention Section, the Care Section, and the Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program (SPBP). Learn the details of services provided under each section.
For help with enrolling in the SPBP, consumers may also call the Department of Aging’s PACE prescription assistance program at 1-800-225-7223.
HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids and is most often contracted through sexual intercourse or sharing needles/syringes or other drug injection equipment.
HIV transmission occurs when these fluids enter into the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person through a mucous membrane, open cuts or sores, or by direct injection.
Learn how HIV is and is NOT transmitted
Use the CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool to access tailored information about your risk of getting or transmitting HIV, and how you can reduce your risk.
HIV Prevention Strategies
If you have HIV, there are strategies you can use to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Abstaining (not having sexual intercourse), using a condom the right way every time you have sex, using new or clean syringes and injection equipment every time you inject, are all tools to reduce the risk of transmission. The use of condoms is highly effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Individuals who have tested negative for HIV may be prescribed PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce their risk of getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus. There are FDA-approved daily medications for PrEP. Talk to a medical professional to see if PrEP could be right for you.
Learn more about PrEP
HIV-negative individuals who believe they have been exposed to HIV in the past 72 hours may be prescribed PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) by their healthcare provider or at an emergency room. PEP is intended only for emergency use.
Learn more about PEP
Frequently Asked Questions about HIV
Where can I learn about HIV treatment?
The National Institute of Health publishes federally approved medical practice guidelines for HIV/AIDS. These guidelines have been developed by panels of experts in HIV care. They also provide a drug database with information on all FDA-approved HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infection drugs and investigational HIV/AIDS drugs. While there are many additional publications and resources that focus on supporting people living with HIV, the best source for medical treatment information is through your healthcare provider.
Who should be part of my HIV care team?
In addition to your HIV health care provider, your health care team may include other health care providers and social service providers who specialize in supporting people living with HIV. These professionals may include pharmacists, behavioral health providers, nutritionists, dentists, patient navigators, and medical case managers.
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers a free comprehensive guide to assembling an effective health care team: Optimizing HIV Care for People Aging with HIV: Putting Together the Best Health Care Team.
How do I live well with HIV?
People living with HIV who stay in care, adhere to their medications, and maintain an undetectable viral load (video) can live long and healthy lives.
Use the CDC’s Viral Load Journal (PDF).
Living a healthy lifestyle, including exercising, and eating well, is important for all older adults. Following a healthy diet provides energy and nutrients to your body and can help to manage HIV symptoms and complications. Regular exercise strengthens the immune system and improves physical and mental health. Quitting smoking can improve your body’s response to HIV treatment and reduce the likelihood of cancers or life-threatening illnesses.
Learn more about Healthy Living with HIV.
Are there supports for mental health and isolation for people living with HIV?
Older adults living with HIV may experience depression, stress, social isolation or other emotional distress. Fortunately, there are many local and national resources that can support older people living with HIV.
The Treatment Locator from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can connect individuals with behavioral health services and substance use resources. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.
You can also find support services through your healthcare system, local community center, or an HIV service organization. Your healthcare provider, social worker, or case manager should be able to connect you to local mental health resources and support groups.
PA Department of Human Services (DHS) Mental Health Resources
LGBT Elder Initiative - Based in Philadelphia, is dedicated to building bridges between Aging and LGBT service and community organizations and consumers through advocacy, information, education and referral.