December was AIDS Awareness Month, a time to remind the country that, despite advancements in treatment, the threat of developing HIV/AIDS is still very real.
One area where the experts say there needs to be more awareness is among heterosexual women age 50 and older.
Across the country, African-American women, like Davis, make up 60 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases among women and most were infected through heterosexual contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As education and awareness campaigns remain focused on people age 18 to 34, women in their 40s and beyond are not always getting the messages they need to hear about safer sex and regular testing.
Davis was a divorcee who met and married a “nice man from the church.” While on their honeymoon, Davis says, she started to feel ill with symptoms she could not shake.
Later, “I found his HIV test results hidden in his Bible,” she says, adding that the date of the test “told me that he knew he was HIV positive well before we got married, but he never said anything.” (MORE: HIV/AIDS and People Over 50) Women over 50 make up 10 percent of all women living with HIV.
Between 19, the rate of HIV infection in women age 50 to 59 rose 56 percent. According to the CDC, 20 percent of the 1.1 million American men and women living with HIV/AIDS do not know they have the disease.
For women 60 to 65 years old, the rate of infection rose 53 percent. Experts believe the percentage is higher among those over 50, due to a lack of education and testing in that population.
“Being married or in a committed relationship is no guarantee that you are not at risk.” Mc Duffie often talks to older women about the importance of protection and finds that they usually have no idea that their partners are engaged in other relationships.
CDC officials concede that they have focused their limited outreach resources on the populations with the greatest need, which continues primarily to be men who have sex with men. In the meantime, stories like Davis’ are repeating themselves nationwide, in women like Daphne Robinson.
California mother and grandmother Nell Davis, 64, doesn’t fit any of the past profiles of those at high risk.
But she has become one of the new faces of the disease and was recently featured in the PBS documentary Endgame.
(MORE: Deeper Dating: A New Approach to Finding Love) HIV/AIDS prevention experts say that more effective education and awareness for older women is essential, as is a bolstered safety net to support women who have to figure out what to do after their cases are diagnosed.
But as much as better information is needed for women in middle age and beyond, there has been even less outreach to older heterosexual men.