Baby Boomers And Sexually Transmitted Diseases On The Rise!

When the late Marvin Gaye crooned his 1973 hit, “Let’s Get It On,” many young couples swooned to his sultry overtones. Fast-forward to 2010, and those same people – now in their 50s, 60s and up – continue to fuel love’s flames with a healthy sex life. Some of that can be attributed to erectile dysfunction-thwarting drugs, such as Viagra, that made lovemaking more possible in one’s later years. But increasingly, there’s a price to pay for later-in-life romance, said Dr. Russell Lampen, infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group. “While the absolute numbers seem small, I worry about exponential growth,” Lampen said. “The rates are increasing and it’s starting to be something public health officials are taking note of.”

In Kent County, people between the ages of 25 and 34 are more likely to report they have been tested for HIV infection (54.4 percent) than those 55 to 64 years old (23.9 percent), according to the Kent County Health Department. Gender and racial disparities exist as well. Women living in the county are more likely than men (48 percent versus 34.5 percent) to be tested for HIV. Blacks (68.8 percent) are more likely to be tested than both whites (38.1 percent) and Hispanics (46.7 percent). Cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea are on the upswing as well for those 45 years and older. chlamydia rates jumped from 338 cases in 2002 to 527 in 2007, the latest year statistics are available. Likewise, gonorrhea for that same age group increased from 549 in 2002 to 2007’s 686; 2004’s gonorrhea case numbers hit the 800 mark.

Sex survey results

According to AARP’s 2009 “Sex, Romance and Relationships Survey,” reported in AARP Magazine, May 2010, of the 1,670 men and women 45 and older who were surveyed:

- 5 percent of men and women were diagnosed with human papilloma virus, including genital warts.

- 7 percent of men and 2 percent of women were diagnosed with gonorrhea.

- 3 percent of men and women had herpes.

- 5 percent of men and 2 percent of women had hepatitis.

- 1 percent had HIV/AIDS.

- 1 percent had syphilis.

Here are some facts about older Americans and their incidence of HIV and AIDS cases:

- People age 50 and older make up more than 10 percent of total AIDS cases in the U.S. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

- HIV cases are increasing among people in their 60s and 70s (CDC).

- In one recent five-year period, the number of new cases of HIV-AIDS increased by 40 percent in older women (U.N. World Assembly on Aging, 2002).

- Age accelerates the progress of HIV to AIDS and blunts CD4 cell response to anti-retroviral therapy. Age-related conditions, such as osteoporosis, increase the risk of severe complications. (U.N.)

- HIV/AIDS diagnosis may be delayed in older people because early symptoms, such as fatigue, poor memory and sleeplessness, may be mistaken for signs of aging. When HIV/AIDS goes undiagnosed, people can unknowingly pass it on to sexual partners. (U.N.)

A decline has been seen in syphilis cases for those 45 years and older going from 280 in 2002 to 146 in 2007. Nationally, there are 70,000 Americans over the age of 50 living with HIV/AIDS. Men having sex with men count for 80 percent of new cases. The reason HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise with older Americans is enough to cool anyone’s ardor.

The use of intimacy-enhancing drugs such as Viagra is one key reason. A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at 1,410,806 middle-ages and older men, some who use erectile dysfunction drugs and some who did not. Results showed STD rates were nearly three times as high for those taking the drugs. The study concluded, however, the association might be due, not to a direct effect of the drugs on STD susceptibility, but on the types of men who choose to use the potency drugs. The relationship may be men who take the drugs are more inclined than others to engage in risky behavior.

Perception is another reason for the rise in STDs. People in their 50s, 60s and beyond grew up in a different world. It’s likely these baby boomers became sexually active in the 1960s. Back then, STDs were referred to as “venereal diseases,” which were pretty much limited to syphilis and gonorrhea – and they were treatable, even curable, with antibiotics.

Now, according to the National Institutes of Health, there are more than 20 STDs to avoid, including some new bacterial ones such as chlamydia and trichomoniasis, which still can be treated and often cured with antibiotics. Viral STDs, on the other hand, can be controlled by treatment, but can’t be cured. These include genital herpes, genital warts, human papilloma virus, hepatitis B and cytomegalovirus. The big one – HIV/AIDS –can be fatal.

“I think some of it has to do with the fact a lot of these individuals became sexually active before HIV and chlamydia became a problem,” Lampen said. “I think people sort of see these as diseases of adolescence, not something that would affect older people. Something kids get not adults.”Health professionals need to do a better job discussing sexual behavior with older adults, especially those who are single, widows and men who are requesting erectile dysfunction drugs, Lampen said. “Patients need to realize the only safe sex is when they protect (them)selves with a condom. You can’t predict which partner is safe by appearance.”

– The Kalamazoo Gazette contributed to this report.

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