Screening for sexually transmitted diseases is not just for the young.
STDs don’t discriminate by age or race. Anyone can get them and during the past decade we’ve seen an increase in STDs among those age 50 and older.
Some of the more common sexually transmitted diseases include syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonias, herpes, HIV, hepatitis and HPV – the human papillomavirus, which is linked with certain cancers. Among those, rates of syphilis and chlamydia have especially increased among the baby boomers.
I think a huge part of the rise in STDs is lack of education and lack of screening. Many older individuals do not realize that they are at risk for STDs if they are not in a monogamous relationship.
Many of the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s era of “free love” and “make love – not war” see no reason to slow down in their golden years. With all of the sex-enhancing pills on the market for men and hormone replacement therapy for women, it has become much easier for couples to maintain an active sex life.
Another reason for the spread of STDs in the older population is that they don’t have to worry about pregnancy and therefore most may not use condoms. Although there have been guidelines for STD screening in the younger population for many years, it has only been in the past few years that guidelines have been created for the older population.
Condoms can help reduce the spread of STDs at any age. However, not all condoms are created equal. Latex and polyurethane condoms seem to work best at protecting against STDs, while the natural membrane or lambskin condoms do not protect as well against STDs (but do protect against pregnancy).
Using condoms for protection means using them correctly and consistently each time, otherwise they won’t work. Water-based lubricants should be used if using a latex condom. Anyone who is sexually active should get screened for STDs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline is to screen anyone born between the ages of 1945-65 at least once for Hepatitis C. The CDC recommends screening everyone ages 13 to 64 at least once for HIV (or anyone in high-risk behavior or pregnant).
HPV guidelines are to screen women up to the age of 65 as long as they have had adequate prior screening and have not had a high-grade abnormal pap test in the past 20 years.
Women should continue to be screened if they have had a total hysterectomy and have a history of abnormal cervical cells (CIN 2 or higher) in the past 20 years or cervical cancer ever. Continued screening for 20 years is recommended for women who still have a cervix and a history of CIN 2 or higher. Some clinicians may not be aware of these new guidelines. I ask all of my patients if they want to get tested for STDs. This makes it easier on the patient if they are too uncomfortable to bring it up.
Dr. Lauren D. Weber is board-certified in family medicine and osteopathic medicine and a certified menopause practitioner. She practices at the Center for Women’s Health, a NorthBay affiliate.