Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Oct 08, 2018
Last Modified Date: Oct 08, 2018
Published Date: Aug 04, 2017
Most people worry about STD transmission among teenagers, who often take sexual risks due to misinformation or inexperience, but recent research suggests that these diseases are also on the rise among adults over the age of 25. These infections are spreading at an increased rate due partly to the fact that most people spreading them don't know that they have a sexually-transmitted infection at all. Since most STIs show no symptoms, especially in the early stages, STD testing is a vital step to keep the population healthy.
About one out of every 30 baby boomers has or will develop hepatitis C. Around 20 million older adults have HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and is associated with greater risk of cervical cancer, and 3 million have chlamydia. One out of six adults has herpes and may not know it, since this disease doesn't always produce the painful sores for which it is best known. Experts estimate that for every million reported cases of an STI, another two million go unreported due to a lack of testing.
The rate of infection is actually increasing most among people who are over the age of 50. According to researchers published in the Student British Medical Journal, many older adults are actually in denial about their need to practice safe sex. In people over the age of 50, discovery of new cases of HIV doubled in the 2000s. This demographic now makes up 20 percent of adult HIV treatment access in the UK. Other disease rates are also increasing; gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are also on the rise among people between the ages of 45 and 64. While many prefer to think of older people as sexually inactive, more than 80 percent of people between the ages of 50 and 90 are engaging in sexual activity, with real consequences
Why STD Testing Is so Important
Getting a test for sexually-transmitted diseases is important because it helps reduce the chance that any given person will unintentionally expose others to infection, but it can help in other areas, too. That's because having one STI actually increases the chance of contracting others, especially if that disease is untreated. A person who has HIV is much more likely to develop the HPV virus as well, even if the HIV is currently dormant in that person's system. Out of the diseases that do produce symptoms, many are relatively subtle. Patients must look for signs such as unusual smells, discharge with a strange color, a frequent need to urinate, or pain during sex.
Why Don't Adults Get STD Tested?
Older populations tend to be less informed about STIs than members of younger generations, yet they're still sexually active. They believe that they don't need to use protective methods like condoms as long as pregnancy isn't a concern. That causes these people to avoid getting tested. Unfortunately, this can lead to infections spreading quickly through the populations. Doctors recommend regular STI testing for everyone, even after the discovery and treatment of a previous infection.
Since most of the educational campaigns about STI transmission have been targeted at younger adults and teens, older adults often miss the message. More adults are staying sexually active as they age, but only about 25 percent of older use condoms, with as few as 12 percent of men saying they use protection every time they have sex. According to a 2010 study performed by Indiana University, people over 45 have the lowest rate of condom use out of any population.
Fortunately, this problem can be solved with an increase in routine testing and a little education. While older adults may not have been bombarded with anti-STI messages as they were growing up, they can learn more about these dangerous diseases through their doctors or via the Internet. Medical professionals can also recommend routine testing for any patient who is sexually active, or people can seek their own testing individually.