Thanks to a powerful combination of drugs, HIV is for the most part, a chronic, but treatable condition. While there's no doubt people with HIV and AIDS are living longer, they're also aging faster, which some AIDS experts call a new crisis.
Stu Smith has lived with HIV since the early '80's, and living with the virus means living with a huge list of medications; 39 to be exact. "I take heart disease, I take liver, I can't even remember, actually I carry a list."
The meds help keep him active, but he says he often times feels older, much older. "Today I feel like I'm a hundred."
In addition to living with HIV, smith also feels the effects of premature aging, from brittle bone disease to neuropathy to memory loss. "On a good day I can walk fifty feet, without sitting down and holding onto something. My memory is a mess and it's embarassing because sometimes I can't remember what I forgot."
Dr. Brad Hare, the medical director of Positive Health Program at San Francisco General, and a leading AIDS researcher says early aging is a big concern."Definitely patients are epxeriencing some of thse complications and I think that's really paramount in how we think about HIV, we're not just managing a virus, we're managing complications of it."
But is it the medications or HIV itself causing early aging related complications? Unfortunately, Dr. Hare says there's no clear answer. "I think it's a combination of both the virus, primarly the virus interacting from the immunie system and also cotributions to medications."
For Smith, he doesn't really care what caused his early aging, he's just happy to be here now. "Lots of research gave me life beyond what anybody thought I'd have."
And that's what keeps him going now, decades after he thought he was given a death sentence.