I-TEAM: Sexually transmitted diseases on the rise among seniors
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Sexually transmitted disease rates in seniors have been climbing across the country for the past seven years.
Our I-Team found the rates of gonorrhea alone in the 65-plus age range doubled from 2015 to 2019. Doctors expected the pandemic to slow down some of the spread, but our I-Team found, that they actually see the opposite.
The challenge is getting seniors to hear a message they may be uncomfortable talking about.
That’s where Dr. Shannon Dowler, also known as “Rap Doctor D” comes in. She’s spent her entire career educating people about STDs, she’s writing a book on the senior STD crisis, and she even advises the CDC on the issue.
But, in her free time, she raps. And she does it with the goal of breaking the ice on a difficult topic. Some of her raps on YouTube about the rise in elderly STD rates have gained her a lot of notoriety.
“We’ve got to have a little fun while we’re doing it,” she jokes.
Over the past few years, she’s had to start getting the message out to a new audience.
“In my STD clinic, I went from the average age of people coming into the door being 20-30 to some days, I have 50-60 be the average age. It makes you wonder, huh, if someone is pulling their oxygen tank behind them into the STD clinic something’s going on,” she said.
Our I-Team found that in 2020, across the country, men 55-64 had syphilis rates higher than 15-19-year-olds.
”Things that make you go hmmm,” Dr. Dowler chuckles. “Because usually our teenagers way outdo older populations.”And here at home, we’re unfortunately ahead of the curve.”
In Augusta—if you look at the CDC data, we are very high as syphilis is concerned.
“Much more syphilis than we used to, much more than I have seen over the past five, six, seven years,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, Chief of Infectious Disease at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
Augusta ranks sixth in the country for the highest STD rates per capita.
”We have patients in their 70s, 80s, positive for syphilis…there’s actually been an increase in STIs in nursing homes as well. For a number of reasons, 1. They’re healthier 2. Meds for erectile dysfunction 3. No one is talking about STIs in those above the age of 65-70-75,” said Vasquez.
Our I-Team found that in Richmond County for seniors 60-plus, STD rates have risen 260% from 2008 to 2020. This is concerning since that data lags behind what doctors are seeing right now.
”I’ve never seen so many HIV and syphilis cases as I have in the last six months,” Dowler said.
That could partially be due to a lull in testing during the pandemic. Since public health resources were re-routed to the COVID-19 response, STD testing took a back seat.
”One of the shortages we had all around the country for all sorts of things, one of them was the chemical reagent we use for chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. We had to use that same reagent in our COVID test. And, so we had a shortage, so we couldn’t do the testing,” Dowler explained.
So, what do we have to do to keep these numbers from trending in the wrong direction? Vasquez says it starts with education and prevention. And, he says those conversations need to start happening more frequently between doctors and patients.
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