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Number of elderly HIV patients surges in South Korea

The number of HIV-positive patients who are aged 60 or older increased dramatically from 2004 to last year in South Korea, a study showed Sunday.

According to the study released by lawmaker Park Yoon-ock’s office, the number of elderly Koreans who developed the diseases increased by 2 1/2 times in the 2004-14 period, from 36 to 91. The number of those in their 70s, in particular, increased by 3 1/2 times from 7 to 25 in the same period.

Last year, a total of 1,081 Koreans were newly infected with HIV. Among them, about 60 percent said they contracted the virus through sex. The remaining 40 percent either said they didn’t know how and when the transmission took place, or chose not to comment.

One patient contracted the HIV virus from his or her mother in utero.
Elderly South Koreans receive their regular health check-ups at a medical facility. (Yonhap)
Elderly South Koreans receive their regular health check-ups at a medical facility. (Yonhap)
HIV is most often spread through sexual contact, but can also be spread through contaminated needles, infected blood or blood products or from mother to child through birth or breastfeeding. HIV causes AIDS, which can destroy the body’s ability to fight infections and some cancers.

The government predicts that medical costs for the elderly -- those aged 65 or older -- will continue to rise as the baby boomer (those born between 1955 and 1963) population begins to grow older, thereby doubling the current elderly demographic to more than 7.2 million.

Last year, about one-third of total medical costs, 19.4 trillion won ($16.6 billion), was spent to treat the elderly.

“As the elderly population is getting bigger and overall life expectancy is getting longer, concerns are rising about sexuality and aging issues,” said lawmaker Park. 

“There should be government support and educational programs for the elderly on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle as they age.” 

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)
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