STDs On the Rise: Are You Talking to Older Patients About Their Sexual Health?

According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are on the rise in the U.S. No surprise that STD rates were highest among those ages 15 to 24. However, there’s also been a sharp increase in infection rates for another group you might not expect: adults over age 60.

Diagnosis rates for STDs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes simplex and others, rose 23 percent among older adults from 2014 to 2017, according to an analysis of patients on the athenahealth® network. By comparison, the rest of the population saw an increase of just 11 percent.

So why the STD boom among boomers? According to Laurie Archbald-Pannone, MD, medical director of the UVA Geriatrics Clinic JABA (Jefferson Area Board for Aging), patients in this age group may not be fully educated on prevention of sexually transmitted infections or STIs. And unfortunately, providers are too often missing the opportunity to provide support and education on these topics.

“In terms of sexual health, we as providers readily talk about STI prevention with younger patients,” she says. “Among older adults, however studies show that providers are not having the same conversations. Often because the provider is uncomfortable bringing up the topic. At any age, it’s difficult and uncomfortable to discuss sensitive topics. But where we as providers can have a big impact is talking to our patients about sexual practices, sexual health, and STI prevention.”

“We have to make sure that as providers we are well educated on these topic so we can be a resource for our patients, and we have to create a judgment-free, open environment so patients feel comfortable having those conversations. Our patients may want to have these discussions — it’s up to us to open the door.”

In recognition of STD Awareness Month, Archbald-Pannone offers the following reminders:

  • Ask patients about their sexual health. Often patients have a lot of questions, but are hesitant to ask. Open that discussion and be an advocate for your patients.
  • Educate patients about common signs and symptoms of STDs so they are aware of what to look for.
  • Encourage barrier protection. Explain the importance of condom use beyond just pregnancy prevention and inform patients of other barrier methods.
  • Anyone who is sexually active should have an annual STD screening. There is no age cutoff for this recommendation.

To refer a patient to UVA, call UVA Physician Direct at 800.552.3723.h