STDs and Seniors: What’s the Danger?

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Seniors are at just as much risk in contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as the rest of the population.It’s a myth that seniors aren’t sexually active. It’s also a myth that seniors don’t have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They are at risk just as much as the rest of the population.

A report compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called “Healthy People 2020” clearly shows that the number of STDs in people aged 50 and up has been increasing at a steady rate since 2000. This is a 10-year national program aimed at improving the health of all Americans. Healthy People states, as its mandate, that it seeks to encourage collaboration, empower people to make better health decisions, while at the same time promoting preventative measures. In other words, they are heavily invested in trying to keep us all as healthy as possible. So when they say STDs are on the rise in the senior community, we should all heed the warning and get the word out about preventative measures.

With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the three STDs most likely to be of risk for those who are sexually active. First up is chlamydia. Chlamydia is caused by the bacterium chlamydia trachomatis. For women, symptoms can include pelvic pain, vaginal discharge, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and pain or difficulty urinating. However, it is also possible to have Chlamydia and not show any signs of the condition. For men, symptoms can include discharge from the urethra and burning upon urination. Both sexes can also suffer from chlamydial conjunctivitis—a condition which causes the eyes to redden, accompanied by a sticky discharge, and/or swollen eyelids. A simple test can diagnose the condition.

The next STD to be aware of is gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacterium can grow in the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, mouth, throat, or eyes. Symptoms include inflammation of the urethra and difficulty urinating. Gonorrhea can also cause eye problems including infection, eye pain, and sensitivity to light.

The final STD to raise awareness about in seniors is HIV. HIV is an infection that kills the cells of your immune system. Symptoms of HIV can include night sweats, fever, rash, muscle aches, sore throat, ulcers in the mouth and fatigue. It is estimated that 11% of new HIV infections in adults occur in those who are 50 and older.

While chlamydia and gonorrhea can both be treated with antibiotics, HIV is a much more complicated infection. Another important thing to know is that the possibility for contracting an STD exists and yet few doctors talk to their older patients about prevention strategies. This could be because of the misconception that older adults aren’t engaging in sexual activity or it could be that a doctor may think it’s “disrespectful” to even bring up the subject of STDs with an older adult.

Whatever the case, STDs have the potential to be pushed under the carpet. Patients can go undiagnosed and untreated. If they remain untreated, STDs can be spread to a wider population.

Seniors still need to use condoms when appropriate. Older adults also need to be aware that their immune systems are not as strong as they were when they were younger. An aging immune system has a hard time fighting off infectious diseases, including STDs.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Purpora A., “Sexually transmitted diseases in the aging population,” Clinical Geriatrics. 2012; 20(12): 10-15.
Lindau, S.T., “A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States,” N Engl J Med 2007; 357(8):762-774.
“Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” the Healthy People 2020 web site;, last accessed June 18, 2013.