Researchers from UCLA say a new study reveals many older Americans who are considered high risk for contracting the AIDS virus are avoiding getting tested for HIV because of psychological barriers, such as a mistrust for the government and concerns about conspiracy theories.
Scientists studied 226 participants ranging in age from 50 to 85 for nearly a year. They were recruited from three types of public health venues that serve at-risk populations - STD clinics, needle-exchange sites and Latino health clinics.
In total, they found 72 percent of the participants did not trust the government and 30 percent reported a belief in AIDS conspiracy theories. In other words, they believe the virus is man-made and developed in order to kill certain groups of people. Additionally, nearly half (45 percent) of those involved in the study admit to not taking an HIV test within the past 12 months.
"Our work suggests that general mistrust of the government may adversely impact peoples' willingness to get tested for HIV/AIDS," said the study's lead author, Chandra Ford. "HIV/AIDS is increasing among people 50 and older, but there's not a lot of attention being paid to the HIV-prevention needs of these folks. Older adults are more likely to be diagnosed only after they've been sick, and as a result, they have worse prognoses than younger HIV-positive people do."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals considered high risk for contracting the virus should be tested every year.
It's important to note the number of people over the age of 50 who are living with HIV/AIDS has been increasing in recent years. However, many are not diagnosed until they begin to show symptoms.
Delayed testing makes an individual's treatment more difficult and puts his or her health at risk. It is also dangerous to others, as untested, infected individuals may be unknowingly spreading the virus.