Treatments for HIV have evolved through several generations since August “Buzz” Pusateri tested positive for the virus 30 years ago. The latest drugs promise a near-normal life span with few side effects for people newly diagnosed. But side effects of earlier drugs, and damage the drugs couldn’t prevent, linger in Pusateri’s 77-year-old body.
In addition to two pills for HIV, he takes medicine to relieve numbness in his feet likely caused by early treatments. He wears a beard to cover facial scarring that new patients won’t get, and some of his body’s fat has migrated to his midsection, creating a condition known as lipodystrophy. “It’s been an up-and-down battle,” said Pusateri, of Oakland. “Really, with this HIV, you never know what’s going to happen to you.” Pusateri is among the oldest in a group of people observing a milestone many never imagined: 2015 is the first year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated more than half of people living with HIV may be older than 50.
“No one would have believed this 30 years ago,” said Ron Stall, director of the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Stall recently received a $2.1 million National Institutes of Health grant for a three-year study of what he calls “resiliencies” or the social and emotional characteristics of men who stayed healthy while living with HIV or who are at risk of contracting it.
Stall is beginning the study amid increased attention from doctors and medical researchers on how the human immunodeficiency virus and its treatments affect aging. Without treatment, life expectancy for someone with the virus is about 10 years, he said.