Cases of STDs on the rise for people 55 and older in Arizona

- In general, people are living longer. Life expectancy for women is currently 81 years. For men, it's 76 years.

There is a saying that 60 is the new 40, and that means people are staying active longer, which may include remaining sexually active as well.

With that said, it's no wonder there's an unexpected rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among those 65 and up.

Sun City, Arizona.

The sign on Olive and 111th Avenue that welcomes visitors says it's the original "Fun City".

It might be fun, however, in more ways than one.

On a particular day, discussions at the Banner Olive Branch Center revolved around sex. Specifically, STDs.

It's a subject manner not often associated with senior citizens. Mary Anderson is 68, but she said today's "seniors" are anything but old, and are a lot more active.

"Nobody I know has an STD, but they know people that either have or have had," said Anderson.

According to an annual report from the Arizona Department of Health Services, although people 15 to 29 years old reported more STDs than any other age group in 2013, rates among Arizona residents 55 and older are rising.

Statewide data shows that rates of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis have all risen from the previous year with gonorrhea spreading the fastest among people over 40.

In adults over the age of 55, the Gonorrhea rate increased to 6.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2013. In the previous year, it was 4.9 cases per 100,000 people. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health shows an even larger increase in its 2014 data than the state statistics, with Gonorrhea rates for Maricopa County's older population jumping from 6.1 to 12.7 cases, between 2012 and 2014.

"There are a couple of things that concern me," said Dr. Bob England, Director of Public Health for Maricopa County. "Overall, our rates of STDs are exploding."

Dr. England said it's not an epidemic, but the growing number of STDs among the older population is concerning.

"The biology is the same: anyone who is putting themselves at risk for STDs is putting themselves at risk," said Dr. England.

The biology is the same, but the generation is different, according to Marriane McCarthy, an Associate Professor and Researcher with Arizona State University College of Nursing.

"They didn't grow up in the era. Most of them were probably married during the 80s, during the 90s when we had to really worry about HIV. They never got into the habit of using condoms and practicing safe sex, and I think that's a carryover," said McCarthy. 

McCarthy said this generation associates condoms with pregnancy, which isn't a concern anymore. She also said the trend in STD rates could also be due to the fact that people are living longer and healthier lives. In addition, there's Viagra and dating websites.

Anderson describes the attitude among some seniors as indifferent, but that's why talks on the issue have become increasingly important, said Rachel Giroux, a family physician for Banner and d the director of the geriatric fellowship program there. 

"We shouldn't be telling them, 'no you shouldn't have sex,'" said Dr. Giroux. "If you are healthy, there are no medical contra-indications, than of course you should."

Education is key to keeping senior citizens STD free, as a way to remind this group of Valley residents that there is a difference between risky behavior and staying young.

"There's enough health issues without having an STD," said Anderson. "You can be embarrassed about a lot of things, but don't make it one of those."

Experts said getting tested is also very important, and Maricopa County offers a number of locations where seniors can get tested for STDs, some for free, and Medicare Part B does cover an annual STD test.

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