You’re Never Too Old for a Sexually Transmitted Infection

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs,) also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are on the rise in Oregon, especially syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. While these infections are more common in young adults, ages 20-29, people of all ages can get these infections, including those aged 65 and up.

“Although we commonly screen for STIs in the college population, older adults are not always regularly screened,” said Crystal Rodriguez, PA-C, of Samaritan Urgent Care Walk-In Clinic – Corvallis. “But any adult with a new sex partner or multiple sex partners should get routinely screened for these infections, ideally even before they have that new encounter.”

The Risk to Older Adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexually transmitted infections among adults ages 65 years and older across the country more than doubled between 2007 and 2017.

“There could be a number of reasons for this increase, but a lack of knowledge, embarrassment in talking with their health care provider about intimate issues, or health care costs could play a role,” explained Rodriguez.

While sexual activity levels often decrease with age after 65, the use of erectile dysfunction drugs and hormonal therapy are helping older Americans remain sexually active for longer. Also, as growing numbers of older adults live in congregate settings, such as retirement homes and assisted living facilities, the access to new or multiple partners can increase.

“Older people who may have been in monogamous relationships for many years and now have a new partner may underestimate their risk for these infections and may not make safe sex behaviors a priority,” Rodriguez said. “The lack of concern over birth control may also reduce condom use.”

Symptoms of STIs

In general, symptoms of an STI can include bumps or sores near genitals or other places where disease entered the body (mouth, throat, rectum), unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, itching, irritation, painful urination, or vaginal bleeding. But not always.

“Some STIs have no symptoms or can mimic other ailments. For example, gonorrhea can cause symptoms easily mistaken for a bladder, vaginal or throat infection,” Rodriguez explained.

If left undetected and untreated, an STI can lead to more serious health issues like cancer, neurological problems, AIDS and more. The infection may also be passed unwittingly onto a sexual partner.

HIV Still a Risk

While HIV no longer dominates the headlines, it should still be a concern for those who are sexually active, warned Rodriguez.

“There are new medications for those who have HIV that make the disease more manageable, as well as medications to minimize the risk for infection in high-risk populations,” said Rodriguez. 

Prevention of STIs

Understanding the risks of sexual activity at any age is an important first step in prevention, noted Rodriguez.

“For those for whom sex education was many years ago, it may be time for a refresher. Your health care provider is always a good resource for information on STIs, but you can also find reliable information at the CDC website,” said Rodriguez.

Also, know how to protect yourself.

“Condoms and other barrier methods like a dental dam to cover female genitalia for oral sex are reliable for preventing STIs and should be used with all sexual activity whether vaginal, oral or anal,” Rodriguez explained.

A little planning can be vital.

Get Tested

“I recommend that if you enter a new relationship, that you get tested for STIs and ask your partner to do the same. The tests are simple — a blood draw, urine test or swab, and should be done annually if sexually active, and more frequently if you have multiple new partners,” Rodriguez said. “Be frank with your health care provider about your sexual activity so they can make appropriate recommendations to reduce your STI risk.”

If you are worried about having a sexually transmitted infection you can visit Samaritan Urgent Care Walk-in Clinic – Corvallis or schedule a Samaritan E-Visit for testing. Your health care provider can order lab tests for a variety of STIs, and you will be notified of the results when they are available. Lab testing can include tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, trichomoniasis and hepatitis B or C.

Crystal Rodriguez, PA-C, sees patients at Samaritan Urgent Care Walk-In Clinic – Corvallis. You can reach her at 541-768-4970.

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