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Sexual infections double in older people 

Programs to educate older sexually active people are lacking as numbers climb.

Be careful when dating — that cougar (or that sugar daddy) could give you a sexually transmitted disease: a recent health study suggests that the rate of STDs have doubled in people over the age of 45 in the last 10 years.

The study, which appeared in June the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, said that older people have a higher case of genital warts and herpes.

In Mecklenburg County, people ages 50 or older accounted for nearly 15 percent of new HIV cases during the last five years, according to a report from the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

The fact that older people are getting sexually transmitted disease isn't new. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 700 cases of infection among heterosexuals age 50 or older. Within five years, that number had doubled.

Though more older people are having sex, perhaps in part due to divorce and Viagra, there is little STD education targeted at them. Metrolina AIDS Project is known throughout the city as a place to go for free HIV testing and education, but even they don't have a specific program targeting seniors.

"Our prevention is we target high-risk folks," said Omar Whiteside, MAP's director of education. And those are African-American women and men who have sex with men. "The idea is to provide programs for individuals who are most at risk and hopes that by providing those programs, you can prevent the greatest risks of new infections."

Many seniors consider HIV a "young person's disease," according to the National Institute on Aging. But the Institute said that 10 percent of Americans over 50 are at risk for HIV and other STDs because they often don't practice safe sex. Since pregnancy isn't a concern, older sexually active people are less likely to use condoms, according to the Institute.

Sounds like a need for education.

Whiteside said the CDC has a group of programs that could be used to teach seniors about safe sex, but he doesn't know if there is a specific program just for seniors.

Statistics from the Mecklenburg County Health Department show seniors around this area aren't at a high risk of herpes. In a report sent to Creative Loafing showing data from 2004 and 2006, syphilis cases rose in people between the ages of 40-49 from 15 cases in 2004 to 49 cases in 2006. For people over 50, those cases rose from eight in 2004 to 19 in 2006.

Rick Christenbury, spokesman for the health department, said that genital warts isn't a reportable disease in North Carolina.

HIV rates in seniors are low in Mecklenburg County, according to the health department's stats. The number of new cases reported in 2004 for people between the ages of 40-49 were 111. In 2006 those cases dropped to 96. For people over 50, the number of new cases were 50 and in 2006 the new cases reported were 49.

In an e-mail, Christenbury writes: "The majority of chlamydia and gonorrhea reports are among young adults with less than two percent of reports occur among individuals 50 and over. This may reflect our screening and testing methods for these particular diseases, i.e., young adults tend to be at higher risk for chlamydia and gonorrhea and therefore are more likely to be tested."

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