CDC Reports Rise in STIs among US Senior Citizens

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in adults over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Taking preventative steps in reducing transmission is critical, and even mature adults aren't immune.

Data from the CDC shows rates of chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea have increased dramatically since 2012. Poor sex education among older adults, increases in life expectancy, and advances in medicine are a few reasons leading to STI increasing among older adults.

In 2012, the CDC reported 123 cases of syphilis in those over the age of 65. That number has sky-rocketed to 1,058.

Syphilis is an STI that can cause serious health complications if left untreated and is transmitted from person to person through direct contact with a syphilitic sore, known as a chancre. These sores can be found in the genitals, vagina, anus, rectum, lips and mouth. In the early stages of the disease, the CDC notes syphilis can be cured with long-acting Benzathine penicillin G. Meanwhile, the number of chlamydia cases has more than tripled in the same 10-year period.

The CDC listed 3,572 chlamydia cases for 2022 in adults over 65 versus 1,134 in 2013. Chlamydia is a common STI that can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Those with chlamydia often show signs of symptoms several weeks after encountering a partner with the disease. If left untreated, chlamydia may cause long-term pelvic/abdominal pain in women, along with fever or pain in tubes attached to the testicles of men. The CDC notes chlamydia can be easily cured with antibiotics.

Cases of gonorrhea have also increased significantly over the last decade, rising from 644 in 2012 to 3,433 in 2022. Gonorrhea is an STI that causes infection in the genitals, rectum, and throat and is acquired through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease.

Gonorrhea is a curable disease, however, if left untreated the disease can cause serious health complications. Like chlamydia, the disease can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women and cause pain in the tubes attached to the testicles in men. In rare cases, untreated gonorrhea may spread to the blood or joints and become a life-threatening condition.

Why are more adults getting STIs?

Despite reaching their golden years, a University of Michigan/AARP survey reveals 40% of respondents between 65-80 years old are sexually active. The increase in STIs among older adults reveals many aren't taking preventive measures for safe sex.

The increase in STIs among older adults is not exclusive to the United States, however.

A 2021 study conducted in New Dehli found prolonged lifespan and high-risk sexual behavior, such as less condom use, have contributed to growing STI rates in older adults. Researchers found it was necessary to bring more awareness and conversations on STIs from healthcare providers to at-risk patients.

In a University Hospitals Blog post, UH Division Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology Angelina Gangestad, M.D., attributed a few reasons leading to the rise of STIs in older adults. Older Americans are less likely to use condoms when with a new sexual partner. Also, she listed erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra for men and hormone therapy for women as possible causes of the rise in STIs.

Gangestad also noted many adults live together in assisted living facilities, which can lead to the easy spread of some STIs. Most importantly, many older adults in the baby boomer generation did not receive sex education which is emphasized at today’s public schools.

How to prevent STIs

The CDC lists steps for those who are sexually active to reduce STIs. Vaccines are the most efficient way to prevent the onset of hepatitis b and human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common STI in the U.S.

Reducing the amount of sex partners also leads to lower chances of acquiring an STI, the CDC says. Also, practicing mutual monogamy, being sexually active with one partner who has agreed to the same practice, reduces the chances of STIs.

The CDC notes the correct and consistent use of male latex condoms is very effective at reducing STI transmission. Those with latex allergies may use synthetic non-latex condoms, however, these products are known to have higher breakage rates than their latex counterparts.

If you experience any symptoms like pain during sex, during urination, frequent itching, an usual odor, or blisters and bumps, contact your healthcare provider immediately for a test and exam.

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