Over 50? Beware of STDs

6 01 2011

Did you ever think you’d be over 50, sexually active, and dealing with an STD?

Safer sex warnings should not only be directed at teens and younger Americans, but to those of us in the AARP crowd as well.

Americans over 50 are sexually active and many factors account for this, including divorce, the advent of prescriptions for erectile dysfunction, and an increased life expectancy.

And with sexual activity can come sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, age is no protection against STDs. Many older adults assume that because they aren’t regularly practicing high risk behaviors such as IV drug use or sex with multiple partners, they are protected.

Older men and women tend to believe they are immune from “all of that,” speaking euphemistically. But it is that kind of thinking that is leading to an increase in STD infections—everything from herpes to HIV.

HIV/AIDS is rapidly spreading among men and women over 50.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends routine HIV/AIDS testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64. Dr. John G. Bartlett, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, sees the new guidelines as a “call to action that the test will be offered on a more regular basis.”

And some experts, including Dr. Veronica Miller, Director of the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research at George Washington University Medical Center, even feel HIV tests should be as “routine as a flu shot.”

The CDC estimates that those over 50 account for 15% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and 24% of those living with HIV/AIDS in this country.

A quarter of a million people living with HIV are unaware of their infection status and are consequently not seeking help for themselves, and may not be ensuring protection from infection for their sexual partners.

Healthcare providers need to take note of the increasing risk of STD infections in their older patients, and  emphasize testing and sex education at every opportunity.

Does Herpes Ever Sleep?

6 12 2010

A Time Magazine cover story from August 2, 1982, described herpes as “Today’s Scarlet Letter.” Back then, both treatment and diagnostic testing for herpes were cumbersome and unreliable.

In the ’70s and ’80s, herpes support groups were established, helping to bring the infection out of the closet.

With the advent of Acyclovir and other antivirals, as well as the (mostly) suppressed painful outbreaks, the lives of many herpes sufferers were transformed. Yet gaps in both the understanding of the virus as well as treatment persist.

Between 1978 and 1990, the prevalence of genital herpes grew by 32%. Currently, estimates are that 1 in 4 American adults over the age of 12 have genital herpes, though most carriers are unaware they’re infected.

Until recently, it’s been accepted that the herpes virus sets up “permanent residence in the ganglia.”

In other words, the virus is believed to be an infection characterized by periodic recurrences followed by inactivity.

A recent study challenges this assumption, finding that the infection “may occur on both sides of the midline and in more ganglia than previously thought.” If these results hold up to further validation, it will show chronic herpes infection to be continuously active, rather than cyclical. A big difference which could change the lives of those infected and inspire new prevention methods.

Currently, the best way to prevent herpes remains sexual abstinence or a long term-monogamous relationship with a partner who’s been tested and is not HSV-2+.

Herpes – Even If You Can’t See It

8 02 2010

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

About 45 million people in the U.S. over the age of 11have been infected. When a person becomes infected with the virus, it causes lesions in the genital area. Once a person is infected with HSV-2, there’s no way to get rid of it. The body carries the virus forever, although there may not always be symptoms.

Scientists used to believe that the life cycle of the virus in the body moved through stages of activity and inactivity. When the virus was active, it caused genital lesions. When the lesions went away, the virus was considered inactive.

Newer evidence suggests the virus may not ever be completely inactive. Now scientists believe that the virus continuously sheds small amounts of itself to the genital area along the nerves from the spinal column, even when lesions are not present.

This information suggests that people may be more contagious during “inactive” times than previously thought. Use of condoms can help prevent transmission, but it’s still possible to become infected when using a condom. Even though there are treatments available that help reduce transmission, there’s nothing that provides 100% protection against infection.

Herpes can be painful, and it can be life-threatening to newborns. Practice safe sex to give yourself the best chance to avoid this and other STDs.