Older people might not think they are at risk of HIV/AIDS, and it doesn't always occur to doctors to raise the subject.

But in fact, low estrogen levels might put post-menopausal women at greater risk of contracting the virus, according to Eva Hersh, chief medical officer at Chase Brexton Health Services in Baltimore. The low levels can cause vaginal dryness that can result in tears through which the virus can enter.

After seeing diagnoses in people they never would have suspected, doctors at Chase Brexton began screening all patients for HIV two years ago, even if they didn't have risk factors.

Anna Fowlkes was diagnosed with HIV in 2006 after she had unprotected sex with an old friend from high school she was romantically involved with.

The 64-year-old Baltimore woman says her friend knew that he was HIV-positive but didn't want to tell her for fear that she would break up with him.

She says now that she was too trusting.

"[I] didn't think about HIV, even though I knew better," Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes says the disease makes parts of her life, such as dating, complicated. But she doesn't look at it as a catastrophe.

"You can stay healthy for a long time, as long as you're compliant, if you take your medicine every day," Fowlkes said. "I take my medicine and live my life."

When Gregory Scott received his diagnosis in 1985, doctors told him he had three months to live. He says he dealt with the news by burying himself in his job as a marketing executive.

"My fear was that when you died of AIDS you broke out in festering scabs and became disgusting," the Towson man said. "I didn't want to be disgusting."

At 64, Scott is grateful to be alive. He has seen many people — including his partner in the 1980s die of AIDS.

"I can still enjoy life," Scott said.

But he also says that his body has been worn down by the disease.

When his employer moved to Canada eight years later, Scott stayed in Baltimore with his doctors. His will to live seemed to disappear.

Scott was diagnosed with renal failure, diabetes and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Even today, he feels the disease is destroying his body.

Long-term affects

Health officials are watching how HIV/AIDS affects the body as it ages.

Those who have had the disease for many years seem to have a greater chance of developing inflammation-induced conditions such as kidney, bone, liver or lung disease. Some are also more prone to certain cancers.

There are also signs of premature aging in older patients. They are three to four times more likely to develop osteoporosis, according to medical studies, which increases their risk of fractures.