Matthew Hamill, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and a specialist and researcher in the areas of STIs and HIV/AIDS. HopkinsMedicine.org
There’s an epidemic in the US, but doctors and patients often fail to discuss it—sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are 20 million new cases of STIs each year… and people under age 25 represent only half of that number. How to protect yourself…
Know the most common STIs in older adults—trichomoniasis (especially prevalent in women over 40), syphilis, chlamydia, HIV and gonorrhea. Most have no obvious symptoms, but you may notice a rash (especially with syphilis and possibly with HIV)…yellow or greenish discharge (chlamydia, gonorrhea) or bad-smelling discharge (trichomoniasis)…oozing from the penis…painful sex…or nonmenstrual bleeding. Some signs can be dismissed or incorrectly treated as menstrual pain, a yeast infection or a urinary tract infection. Also: An infection can take hold via any part of body that has been sexually exposed, including through oral and anal sex.
Return to safe-sex practices of your youth. Ask your partner about other partners. Proceed with caution until you reach a comfortable level of trust.
Get tested regularly. Ideally, you and a new partner should be tested before you engage in sexual activity. Get regular screenings for STIs—don’t be embarrassed to discuss your sexual health with your doctor. Testing can reveal an asymptomatic infection, and early treatment can prevent complications.
Alternative: You can be tested without a doctor’s order at a local STI testing site—Quest Diagnostics offers this. There also are reputable online services where you can order a test kit and mail your swabbed sample to a lab. One free option: I Want the Kit. (IWantTheKit.org), based at Johns Hopkins.
Important: Human papillomavirus (HPV) infects nearly everyone, usually in their teens or early 20s. It can drive head and neck, penile, cervical, vulvar and anal cancers later in life. Talk to your doctor about cancer screenings, especially if the HPV vaccine, first introduced in 2006, wasn’t available when you were younger. Ask your dentist to check for signs of oral cancer at every cleaning. Check yourself for red or white patches or lesions on your tongue, gums or lips.