LEE COUNTY, Fla. - "The Golden Years" are a time seniors can spend relaxing, traveling, or passing around the shuffleboard discs. But doctors say some in this age group may be passing around a lot more than that.
"We are seeing more promiscuous behavior in older people, men more than women, but we are seeing it in females as well," Dr. Stephen Zellner of Internal Medicine Associate said.
That means, a higher risk of STDs. The biggest of concern is the HIV problem which we are also seeing in older people, much more than we ever saw before. I think seniors are becoming more and more of the mindset that they are immune, that sexually transmitted diseases are for people of a younger age group, a younger population, and so they don't worry about protected sex."
A 2010 AARP survey found just 1 in 5 sexually active dating singles reported using protection regularly - just 12% of men, and just 32% of women. And in the era of Viagra and Cialis, what wasn't possible before, now is.
"STDs are for anyone and everyone," Lee County Health Department STD Program Supervisor Jim Yarnes said.
According to Yarnes, those powerful little pills are just a few reasons why older people are becoming infected. "Some of the people over 50, particularly in over 60 say well, pregnancy is not an issue anymore, I don't have to worry about using a condom, gee whiz, that's just not a concern of mine and STDs, those are for the young people," Yarnes said. "No, they really have to worry about it."
Between 2005 and 2009 in Lee County, Chlamydia cases in people over 40 rose from 24 to 43 - an 80% increase. While the increase itself is alarming, those numbers are relatively small compared to the under-40 group, which went from 1,263 cases to 1,911 - a 51% jump.
Statewide, Chlamydia cases in adults over 40 increased 96%, while under 40 rose by 68%.
"We're talking about 30-40,000 cases of Chlamydia in under-40 group, that's in the state, versus, a couple thousand in the over-40 group," Yarnes said, "so it's a big discrepancy in terms of total numbers. Percentage increase though, is a concern with people over 40."
It's not just Chlamydia. Yanes and Zellner say they are seeing increased STDs all across the board: Herpes, Gonorrhea and Syphyllis. And a whole other issue is getting patients to talk about it. "They're either not making any comment, they're not aware that there is any problem, they're ashamed to talk about it, so I think that we are not testing, we are not asking questions readily enough in this age population because it's not something that's ever been on our minds," Zellner said.
The good news is, many STDs can now be treated and cured, or controlled with medications. But the longer they wait, the more dangerous the consequences, such as blindness, infections, even death. Dr. Zellner explained the guidelines are the same, whether you're 18 or 80, "It's good caution, protection, monogamous relationship, being aware that there is the risk."
The main point that doctors and health officials want to stress is, it doesn't matter what age you are, you can contract a Sexually Transmitted Disease if you aren't careful. Whether or not these increased numbers in seniors are the result of increased incidence or better reporting, is to be seen. Regardless, it's all about awareness.
If you're uncomfortable talking with your doctor, there's a new website called FaceItFlorida.com, developed by the Florida Dept. of Health, where you can learn all about prevention and protection, and also get anonymous support if you worry you've been infected.
Coming up in March, there is a Conference on Aging in Fort Myers that will highlight the high risk of HIV in Florida's elder population.
When: Friday, March 18, 7:45 am – 4 pm
Where: Broadway Palm, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers
Registration: Call (239) 489-9164. Registration fee for professionals is $80, $40 for caregivers and students and $70 for United Way agencies. Continuing Education Credits are available.