Health experts are urging more safeguards for both the elderly and the young to combat an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Doctors are seeing STDs affecting greater numbers of adults ages 65 and over, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, according to officials. At the same time, medical practitioners say, more must be done to protect against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, starting with children.
“Health care workers report a rise in sexually transmitted infections among residents of retirement homes, where couples who had a single partner for years are now engaging in more sexual activity with new partners, after being widowed or divorced,” according to Anil Mangla, director of public health and associate professor of biomedical science, based at University of the Incarnate Word’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Research also suggests the jump is due in part to the introduction of remedies for erectile dysfunction, Mangla added.
Dr. Junda Woo, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District medical director, agreed.
“Sometimes seniors, because they are not worried about pregnancies, don’t worry about using condoms. But, seniors are at higher risk for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) for a variety of reasons,” Woo said.
“One in six new HIV infections are among people over age 50,” she added. “Age is not a condom.”
When diagnosed, most STDs must be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, HPV, the most common STI in the country, is exempt from such accounting. The National Cancer Institute estimates there are 24 million active cases and 5.5 million new ones each year.
Plus, various HPV strains cause the great majority of cervical cancers.
NCI says public ignorance about the virus is vast; the CDC adds recent studies show high levels of HPV infection among females, with young women making up the bulk. One such survey of female college students indicated an average of 14 percent become infected with genital HPV annually.
Current infection rates in men of equal age appear similar.
The scourge is so ubiquitous, nearly all men and women will get at least one type at some point. Nearly 80 million Americans have HPV, with about 14 million Americans — including teens — becoming afflicted each year, the NCI reports.
Mangla says many teenagers and adults resist STD testing.
HPV, spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, can be acquired by engaging in vaginal, anal or oral sex with a carrier, the CDC says.
One of the most prevalent, but curable, STDs is HPV trichomoniasis. Nationally, an estimated 3.7 million people have it. However, only about 30 percent develop any symptoms. Trichomoniasis is found more in females; and older women are more likely than younger ones to become infected.
A vaccine protects against most HPV cancers and genital warts.
The CDC recommends all children get two doses of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9. For shots to be most effective, the series should be given prior to exposure. Health care professionals universally advocate the procedure for girls and boys ages 11 to 12, to ensure adolescents are immune before becoming sexually active.
Gardasil 9 prevents nine cancer-causing HPV types.
In 2007, ex-Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order mandating all 11- to 12-year-old girls in Texas get the shots. His action sparked enormous controversy and confusion, forcing Perry to withdraw the order.
Ruchi Kaushik, a general pediatrician affiliated with Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and Baylor College of Medicine, said, “It saddens me that the uptake of HPV vaccine is so low, yet it is an anti-cancer vaccine.”
Woo added, “We don’t do as well as we’d like to with HPV vaccinations. According to the 2016 nationwide-health survey, some 58 percent of girls started the vaccine and 48 percent of boys. But, too many failed to get the second required dosage.”
After HPV, the most widespread STD depends on the age group, Mangla said.
“Chlamydia is prevalent among high school and college kids, and syphilis in adults,” he added.
For more on STDs, visit www.cdc.gov.