AIDS Patients Aging Prematurely

AIDS patients are wrestling with premature aging, a predicted side effect of the disease that few of those with the disease thought they would live to see.

In the early stages of AIDS research, researchers predicted that those infected with the HIV virus would be more prone to the assorted health maladies typically affecting the elderly. Thirty years into the disease's existence,  doctors are noting signs of "accelerated" aging in some of their long-term survivors, like cancers, neurological disorders and heart conditions.

Currently, the clinical battle is determining whether or not the memory loss, arthritis, renal failure and high blood pressure showing up in patients in their late 40s or early 50s are the result of the virus or the brutal regimen of medication used to treat it. By 2015, people over 50 are expected to make up a majority of US residents dealing with the virus, and so a degree of urgency has descended on researchers.

"In those with long-term HIV infection, the persistent activation of immune cells by the virus likely increases the susceptibility of these individuals to inflammation-induced diseases and diminishes their capacity to fight certain disease," said a report released last September by the National Institutes of Health. "Coupled with the aging process, the extended expsure of these adults to both HIV and antiretroviral drugs appears to increase their risk of illness and death from cardiovascular, bone, kidney, liver and lung disease, as well as many cancers not associated directly with HIV infection."

Dr. Malcolm John, director of the University of California, San Francisco, told the Associated Press that research so far suggests that the HIV virus is not directly causing conditions that mimic old age, but rather hastening patients towards ailments to which they may have been genetically or environmentally predisposed to.

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