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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK

World: Americas

Aids on the rise among over-50s

In the US many over-50s are returning to the dating game

By BBC Washington Correspondent Philippa Thomas

Just because you are drawing a pension does not mean you are free from the threat of Aids.

Philippa Thomas: In some areas one in six Aids cases are over 50.
The over-50s, who account for one in 10 Aids cases in the US, are the latest focus of HIV prevention campaigns in the States.

In a nation with a high divorce rate, people are living longer, and many seniors are back on the dating scene.

And the introduction of the impotence pill Viagra has given some a more active sex life.

Sue Saunders is a perfectly ordinary grandma.

She is a lively 66-year-old enjoying the sun in Florida's Fort Lauderdale, but she has been living with the extraordinary.

[ image: Susan Saunders:
Susan Saunders: "It can happen to anyone"
Some 10 years ago, she found out she was infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

"I found out the man I was madly in love with had Aids,'' she said.

Her doctor did not want to test her for HIV, many of her friends just vanished, and even her children were embarrassed and ashamed.

"All my kids said, 'Mum you're not promiscuous. How can it happen to you?' But it can happen to anyone," she said.

Howard Warren is a 61-year-old Presbyterian minister.

He is gay, but for decades he has been scared to admit it. He found it agonising to start to talk about Aids.

"It took me two months to even start telling people. I felt panic, fear," he said.

Safe sex for seniors

In areas of Florida, where thousands of elderly Americans retire to the beaches, one in six Aids cases are over 50 and the rate of infection is growing.

To help educate the age group about the disease, the state is hosting forums on safe sex at day care centres for the elderly.

[ image: Forums on safe sex  are held in day centres]
Forums on safe sex are held in day centres
It wants to re-educate those who have seen it all, including women like Bessy Williams who grew up before the days of explicit sex education.

"When I was little we just didn't talk about sex," she said.

In a gathering dominated by walking sticks and zimmer frames, the free condoms being given out by the state of Florida were a hit.

The group appears open to the message that safe sex is relevant to everyone, and taking the HIV test should not be seen as a stigma.

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