The number of new HIV cases recorded among people ages 60 and older in Puerto Rico is increasing, the Miami Herald reports. According to the Herald, 238 new HIV cases were recorded among people over age 60 during the year ending in September 2007 -- a 25% increase compared with the same time period in 2006. Puerto Rico Health Secretary Rosa Perez Perdomo said that about 4% of all HIV cases in the country occur among the age group. The national average of new HIV cases reported among people ages 65 and older has remained at about 2% annually, according to CDC figures.

The increase has prompted the San Juan Health Department to create a program, called Golden Force, which aims to increase HIV awareness and prevention, as well as to encourage testing, among the elderly. According to Milagro Melendez, an HIV prevention counselor, Golden Force plans to focus on reaching people at retirement homes, local fairs and parks. She added that program staff will distribute condoms and discuss safer-sex practices with the elderly. Local physicians also face challenges associated with providing care for people living with the disease because HIV/AIDS remains a taboo subject, Melendez said. She added that some physicians are confusing the symptoms of HIV/AIDS with old age, which is compounding the problem.

Luis Martinez Suarez -- medical director of the San Juan AIDS clinic, which administers Golden Force -- said the reasons for the increase in HIV cases among the elderly include an increase in the use of drugs, such as Viagra and Cialis, and a widely held belief that the disease only affects injection drug users and men who have sex with men. "We realized a number of [the elderly] were starting to get sick," Martinez Suarez said, adding, "We knew we need to start paying attention to that age group, taking the message of prevention to seniors."

Greduvel Duran, executive director of the health department's AIDS office, said the government is creating several prevention programs, including public service announcements and a radio campaign. "Abstinence should be the first line of defense in the prevention of HIV," Duran said, adding, "But we realize that adults are sexually active, and we have to recognize that abstinence works for some groups and not for others" (Anasagasti Akus, Miami Herald, 1/28).

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