By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING — Sexuality is a sensitive word, especially when it’s brought up with the word aging.
Surveys shows that people over 65 still have sex, and their rate of them contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is increasing nationally, according to a 2013 survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The survey shows that 892,200 Americans older than 65 had chlamydia, 216,100 had gonorrhea and 12,000 had syphilis.
“Our culture tends to stop thinking of older people as sexual beings somewhere along the line,” said Rachel Dewees, director of the Turner Senior Wellness Program at the University of Michigan. “This is simply not true.
“Particularly, LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) older adults are invisible as some are tempted to go back into the closet as they age, fearing they will not get compassionate care from various institutions,” Dewees said.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in 2014, 1.65 percent of the state’s chlamydia cases were in adults over 45, as were 13.7 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases, 4.8 percent of gonorrhea cases and 18.3 percent of all syphilis cases.
In Michigan, some numbers have increased while others have declined.
“The percentage has greatly decreased since 2001 for all syphilis cases and for primary and secondary syphilis cases,” said Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the department.
But she added, “We have seen a very slight increase in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases, up from 3.3 percent in 2001 for gonorrhea and 1.08 percent for chlamydia, but this is likely not significant and a very small proportion of our total.”
Eisner said people older than 45 accounted for only 2.5 percent of all reported STD cases in the state in 2014. And all local health departments provide STD screening and services to people of any age.
“Most of our funded agencies would test any symptomatic people regardless of age,” she added.
Susan Cerniglia, the communication manager of the Washtenaw County Public Health Department, said her agency provides testing and treatment to anyone who may be at risk for STDs. However, few people older than 50 have that risk, according to the agency’s statistics, she said.
“For example, if you look at chlamydia, we have around 1,500 cases in the county a year and only 1 to 2 percent of those are diagnosed as 50 or older,” Cerniglia said.
However, she said there could be seniors with STDs who may not go for testing.
“Part of the problem could be that older persons don’t necessarily see themselves as at risk, or they might be shy about it. They just might not be requesting testing.
“So it’s hard to say there are more infections among older persons. We don’t have good ways of knowing if people are sexually active and not getting tested. But right now, we are not seeing high numbers of older persons who tested positive for STDs,” she said.
According to Cerniglia, Washtenaw County has no sexual health programs specifically for seniors, and its priority population for such programs is younger people.
By ZHAO PENG