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Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Cases Rising Among Seniors

STDs are increasing in the senior population, continuing a worrisome trend lasting nearly a decade now, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC said seniors are showing a rise in the trifecta of STDs — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis — more than any other age group besides those 15 to 24.

“STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond,” Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of the CDC National Center for HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention, said in a statement.

April is STD awareness month and the CDC strongly urges sexually active seniors to speak with their health care providers, embrace knowledge of STDs, and be proactive in safeguarding one’s sexual health.

One reason for the uptick in cases is failing to take protective measures prior to sex. The other is the failure to get checked for the disease. That permits the STD to spread and intensify, causing greater health risks and greater costs to combat.

According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, among people over 60, more than half the men and 40 percent of the women are sexually active. Even though pregnancy risk is almost nonexistent in this population. — which gives many elderly a sense of sexual liberation — active seniors can still have and pass on an untreated STD. Since many seniors also grew up before the "safe sex" messaging made people aware of condoms, the thought of using them is minimal.

Medicare started covering annual STD screenings in 2011, but only five percent of seniors on Medicare are taking advantage of the free testing. Many senior citizens are not aware of this benefit.

“The power to protect your health is in your own hands,” the CDC says. “Your health matters, and it’s up to you to take control.”

As part of STD Awareness Month, the CDC has an STD awareness website (STD Awareness Month website) and urges individuals to Sign up for our Thunderclap and share a prevention message from your Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr account.

A good plan is to get tested before resuming sex again or before starting a sexual relationship with a new partner. Frequent testing is recommended for people who are not in monogamous relationships and/or have many sexual partners.

Basic tests are for HIV, usually with blood tests or RNA tests; syphilis and hepatitis; chlamydia and gonorrhea, usually tested with a urine sample or through the collection of cells, which are sent to a lab for analysis, and HPV (Human papillomavirus), which is one of many sexually transmitted viruses. There is no test for males but for females a Pap test can check for any cancerous or precancerous cells on the cervix resulting from the disease.

STD has no respect for the elderly. In fact, it is the exact opposite: it is easier for many seniors to contract STDs because of lower immune systems and such things as menopausal side effects, which can cause changes like the thinning of protective vaginal walls.

Adding to the challenge is that some symptoms triggered by chlamydia and gonorrhea — notably declining eyesight and increased Arthritis — much of the time are attributed to getting older. Thus, the STD may be undetected, and the STD will be untreated.

The same accidental ignorance occurs in senior living facilities and nursing homes where conversations about condoms or STD testing are rarely heard.

Doctors who work with the elderly have tried rap songs, colorful graphics and community dances, hotlines, micro sites, and lots of frank talk to reach out to the retired and inspired population and make them invest in and use sexual precautions before and after intimacy.

You are never too old to learn how to have safe sex and to check to make sure there are no lingering dangerous reminders in your body of that good time.