A sexually transmitted disease – HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes and syphilis, to name a few – can happen to anyone young or old.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are roughly 20 million new STD cases each year – with a fraction of those being reported.
In 2016, there were over two million reported cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. And, although most cases were in young adults and teenagers, the aging population – middle-aged and seniors – saw a huge rise in numbers.
For instance, research showed that people between 55 and 64 years of age saw a rise in chlamydia cases from 2012 (4,950) to 2016 (9,321).
Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital Reproductive Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Khady Diouf said people don’t see older adults getting STDs, but the reality is they are.
According to Dr. Diouf, there is a multitude of reasons for the increase:
Women who have untreated gonorrhea or chlamydia could develop painful PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) that could involve hospital admission and IV antibiotics. For men, these diseases could cause painful urination or urethra infection.
It also increases the chance of getting and spreading HIV.
Catching them can be difficult because they don’t always present symptoms. While many STDs can be treated with antibiotics, researchers have discovered that gonorrhea is starting to become antibiotic-resistant.
Syphilis infections using cause symptoms, such as sore in the mouth or genital areas. Before long, the rash has spread to other parts of the body, caused hair loss, vision, loss, muscle and joint pain and fever.
If left untreated, Dr. Diouf said, it can cause dementia and heart damage. The treatment for it is an injection of penicillin.
In order for people to protect themselves from an STD, they need to use condoms and be screened regularly. A simple blood test can be done for both syphilis and HIV while screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia is done through a swab of the vagina, penis or throat. It can also be done by taking a urine sample.
According to Dr. Diouf, talking about STDs with a doctor can be difficult to do, especially if the person is an older adult. However, it’s important to talk about the matter and how to protect yourself.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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