27 June 2008
A collaborative study which included researchers from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) West Midlands and is published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), shows an increasing rate of sexual infections in people over 45 years in the West Midlands.
The study examined episodes of infection between 1996 and 2003 and found an upwards trend in the number of visits by over 45s attending Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the West Midlands. In 1996, this age group comprised 3.9% of all clinic visits; by 2003, this had risen to 4.5%.
The study looked at regional data for the period 1996-2003 and focused on five STIs – chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhoea and syphilis. 4445 STI episodes were reported among over 45s in this period. Overall, males and those aged 55-59 were significantly more likely to be affected.
Rates for all five STIs were significantly higher in 2003 compared to 1996, and the cumulative rate of infection more than doubled from 16.7 per 100, 000 of the population in 1996 to 36.3 per 100,000 of the population in 2003.
The most commonly diagnosed infection among over 45s was genital warts, accounting for almost half (45%) of the cases. Herpes was the next most common, affecting almost one in five (19%).
“Despite the increased political, public and professional recognition of the public health importance of STIs, and the documented increase in the number of visits to GUM clinics by over 45s, there have only been a few small scale studies addressing STIs in older age groups,” Dr Babatunde, Consultant Regional Epidemiologist with the Health Protection Agency West Midlands.
“The results of this study can be used by public health policy makers to improve sexual health programmes for older people,” he said. “Sexual health strategies have rightly focused on the under 25s but our results indicate that sexual risk-taking behaviour is not confined to young persons but is also an increasing trend in the over 45s” said Dr Olowokure. “
Dr Olowokure added: “Older people are increasingly likely to be single or undergoing relationship changes and are less likely to consistently use condoms, perhaps because the risk of pregnancy no longer exists. Increased international travel, internet dating, new drugs to counter erectile dysfunction and overlapping sexual networks may also be factors. .These issues all warrant further exploration.
“Attitudes to sexual relationships are changing across the generations, and the increasing rate of infection seen in older age groups would indicate that they remain sexually active and at risk of sexually transmitted infections. It’s very important that health services and others recognize this and ensure that older age groups are not missing key ‘safer sex’ messages.”
The HPA now plans to work with its partners to investigate the social and behavioural patterns that may lie behind these findings.
For more information, please contact: Lyndsay Stewart, Health Protection Agency, Communications Officer. Tel: 0121 352 5317 or 07786 894960
HPA Expert: Consultant Epidemiologist Dr Babatunde Olowokure is available for comment for both print and broadcast journalists
Notes to editors:
Summary of the findings of this study:
Last reviewed: 11 August 2008