Reckless sexual behaviour by divorcees is behind an increase in HIV cases among the over-50s, a major study suggests.
The diagnosis rate among older Britons rose by an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent over the 12 years to 2015, according to research in The Lancet.
This compares to a steady decline of 4 per cent a year among younger people.
Experts said the rise of HIV in older people was driven by heterosexual sex and could be due to a surge in ‘silver splitters’ – people over 50 who are newly single after leaving long-term relationships.
Iain Murtagh, chief executive of HIV and Aids support charity The Crescent, said: ‘People are coming out of long-term relationships and thinking that condoms are only for contraception.
Experts said the rise of HIV in older people was driven by heterosexual sex and could be due to a surge in ‘silver splitters’ – people over 50 who are newly single after leaving long-term relationships (stock photo)
‘So if they’re menopausal or have had a vasectomy or hysterectomy in their previous relationship, then contraception doesn’t even cross their minds – and they are acquiring HIV and other STIs as a consequence.
‘Many people aren’t aware HIV is still an issue, they think it has gone away, so they can be quite blase about protection.’
Researchers from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control monitored HIV diagnoses in 31 European countries from January 2004 to December 2015.
Over the study period, 54,102 over-50s – equivalent to 2.6 in every 100,000 – were diagnosed with HIV.
While lower than the rate of 11.4 cases per 100,000 younger people, diagnosis rates fell among this age group dropped while it spiked among older Europeans.
In 2004, around 3.1 new cases per 100,000 people over 50 were diagnosed in the UK, but this increased to 4.3 per 100,000 by the end of the study.
Iain Murtagh, chief executive of HIV and Aids support charity The Crescent, said: ‘People are coming out of long-term relationships and thinking that condoms are only for contraception’ (stock photo)
Overall, the countries with the highest diagnosis rates in older people were Estonia, Latvia, Malta and Portugal.
Around one in six new cases of HIV diagnosed in Europe are now in over-50s. Lead author Dr Lara Tavoschi said: ‘Our findings suggest a new direction in which the HIV epidemic is evolving.
‘This potentially is a result of older people’s low awareness of HIV and how it is transmitted, leading to misconceptions and low perception of their own risk.’
She suggested routine testing by GPs could help crack down on the problem.
In a linked comment article, Professor Janet Seeley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Many older people are sexually active and their sexual health and behaviour affect HIV transmission.
‘Yet older adults have been largely neglected by the prevention community.’