While reviewing some epidemiology data for a lecture recently, I couldn’t believe my eyes: The numbers indicated an increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older Americans. Filled with doubt about the accuracy, I decided to research further. My first stop was a PA colleague who works with a mobile urgent care company that specializes in retirement communities—and she confirmed that she has witnessed this “trend”!
The fundamental public health concern for older Americans is, of course, long-term illness, disability, and dependency on others. However, experts on aging agree that since the last century, disability rates among those older than 65 have declined, as have the number of seniors living in nursing homes. Suffice it to say, the good news is that Americans are living longer—the bad news, they are doing so with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and malignant neoplasms. The other downside is that seniors have increased risk for infectious diseases.1
Healthy People 2020 continues to recognize HIV and other STIs as problems in the United States and to promote efforts to reduce them. Unfortunately, prevention strategies for older adults in primary care settings are often not aimed at these diseases. More broadly, sexual behaviors tend to be discussed less with this population.2
The disturbing climb in STIs among older Americans is part of a more momentous national trend that the CDC says must be tackled. Overall rates of STIs in 2016 were the highest ever recorded in a single year.3 And although STI rates are highest among people ages 15 to 24, the upsurge among older Americans is larger than it is for the rest of the US population. According to the CDC, in 2016, there were 82,938 cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia reported among Americans ages 45 and older—about a 20% percent increase from 2015 and continuing a trend of annual increases since at least 2012.3 The infographic shows the rates for individual STIs.
The CDC notes that STIs put people “at risk for severe, lifelong health outcomes like chronic pain, severe reproductive health complications, and HIV" particularly if left untreated.4 Jonathan Mermin, MD, Director of the CDC National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention has described STIs as “a persistent enemy, growing in number and outpacing our ability to respond.”5
Over the next 3 weeks, we will explore this public health issue—starting next week with the big question: Why is this trend occurring? In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts with me at [email protected]. See you next Thursday!