'Risk-taking' blamed as STIs double for over-45s

The rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among the over-45s has more than doubled in under a decade, a study showed today.

The failure to practise safe sex has led to the number of infections rocketing 127 per cent.

Genital warts was the most commonly diagnosed infection followed by herpes, while men over 45 accounted for 67 per cent of all cases.

The study was based on data from 4,445 diagnoses made in people aged 45 and over at 19 genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in the West Midlands between 1996 and 2003 .

But the authors said results from others studies suggest a widespread problem, with "sexual risk-taking" among older age groups.

The study, published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that men and people aged 55 to 59 were significantly more likely to be affected by an STI than others across the group.

Most of the people diagnosed were straight men and women.

The most commonly diagnosed infection among the over 45s was genital warts, accounting for almost half (45 per cent) of the diagnoses. Herpes was the next most common, accounting for 19 per cent of cases.

Women aged 45 to 54 had the highest rates of STIs for their sex, while men aged 55 to over 60 had the highest rates for theirs.

Cases of chlamydia, herpes, warts, gonorrhoea and syphilis all rose sharply, the study found.

Rates of chlamydia in men rose from 3.2 to 10.6 per 100,000 population while gonorrhoea in men rose from 2.2 to 13.6 per 100,000 population between 1996 and 2003.

The numbers of infections identified in younger age groups rose 97 per cent during the period of the study but those identified in the over 45s rose 127 per cent.

The authors wrote: "There has been a significant increase in the overall rate of STIs in older adults over the last few years, but little published research to inform public health policy, which remains youth focused.

"The results of this study, together with evidence from a number of other studies, would indicate that sexual risk-taking behaviour is not confined to young people but also occurs among older people."

Julie Bentley, chief executive of FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association), said: "We've also noticed a rise in the numbers of over 45s phoning our helpline.

"Tragically, the sexual health of men and women of this age group is largely neglected and it's something FPA is increasingly concerned about.

"Services are geared towards young people, campaigns are targeted at the under 25s so over 45s think that sexual health has nothing to do with them and don't even know when they're taking risks.

"It isn't just young people who have sex.

"Fifty and 60 somethings (and older) are dating again and starting new relationships.

"Once the worry of pregnancy goes away, it's easy to forget about sexually transmitted infections and the importance of using condoms.

"It's imperative that we move away from the equation that sexual health equals young people."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The use a condom safer sex message is relevant for anyone having unsafe sex and many of the measures we have taken benefit everyone, regardless of age. Information about safer sex is available to everyone who needs it and our target to offer appointments at GUM clinics within 48 hours by March 2008 has improved access for all."

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