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Graying of AIDS: Older Americans at risk for HIV infection

Anna Fowlkes, 64, didn't date for years after her husband, Sonny, died of a brain tumor. And after she finally did, she learned she’d become infected with HIV. She taught her son about safe sex, she says, but, like many other seniors, it didn’t occur to her that she needed to practice it too.

“We are of a generation where that was not something we have to think about,” she says. “Now I know better.”

Anna Fowlkes contracted HIV from a man she had a relationship with in her 50s. Now 64, she's found purpose doing HIV and AIDS outreach and education for other seniors.

One in 10 people newly diagnosed with HIV are age 50 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2006 statistics, the last year for which there is data. Dr. Brad Hare, the medical director of San Francisco General Hospital’s HIV/AIDS clinic, Ward 86, says up to half of the new infections seen in San Francisco among that age group are in women. That’s far higher than the 27 percent of new infections that occur in women of all ages, according to the CDC’s 2006 statistics.
Some, like Fowlkes, may be entering a new sexual relationship for the first time in decades after the death of a spouse and may not be aware of the risk, says Hare.  In other cases, women may have believed they were in a monogamous relationship with a husband or partner, who wasn’t monogamous with them.
Today, Fowlkes, is an advocate for HIV prevention among her peers. “I don’t want [others] to have to go down the road I’ve gone down,” she says. “I want them to get tested.”

Msnbc.com health editor Linda Dahlstrom teamed up with Katja Heinemann (Aurora Select), a freelance photojournalist who has been documenting the graying of AIDS since 2005, to report the video above and this story.

See more of Heinemann's work on the subject at www.grayingofaids.org