STD rates among seniors went up by 24% during COVID: report

Rates of sexually transmitted diseases reported in seniors increased by double-digits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research. 

Data first provided to Axios by FAIR Health showed that STD diagnoses rose by nearly 24% among those ages 65 and older between 2020-2023. They went up by around 5% overall in commercially insured patients in that same time period, Axios reported, making the jump in seniors’ diagnoses the largest among all age groups. 

The STD with the largest increase in seniors was human papillomavirus at 32.2%. For men, there was a 59% uptick in patients with gonorrhea, per Axios, and the number of female patients with syphilis saw a 47% increase.

Why are STD rates in seniors rising?

Dr.  Angelina Gangestad, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University Hospitals, attributed the rise in STD cases to a number of factors.

Older people may underestimate their risk for diseases and not take precautions such as using condoms or testing before having sex with a new partner, Gangestad said in a post on the health system’s website. If they do have STD education, that may have been may decades ago, she pointed out. 

Advances in medicine, such as erectile dysfunction drugs for men and hormone therapy for women, also help older people stay sexually active longer. 

In addition, a larger number of older adults are living together in assisted living facilities.

“When you put all that together, you see a population where there’s probably a little more risky behavior going on, and where people are having new partners because a spouse died or they divorced,” Dr. Gangestad says. “Older people aren’t thinking about it. Providers aren’t thinking about it either. We’re not doing the education we should be doing with the older population.”

Advice on STDs/STIs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines sexually transmitted infections are viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites people get through sexual contact. An STD develops from an STI, the CDC wrote, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. 

Most infections only have mild signs or symptoms, if any at all — meaning someone could be positive for one and not know it, the agency warns.

To prevent them, the CDC recommends using condoms correctly; getting vaccinated for hepatitis B and HPV, as well as testing regularly and having one’s partner do the same.

Having an “open and honest conversation” with a healthcare provider about your sexual history and STI testing is also important, the CDC says, though clinics provide confidential and free or low-cost testing if one isn’t comfortable talking to their provider. 

To find these clinics, you can go to the Get Tested website.

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