At Home with Chris Jessen 2018 - 217

WORDS: KIA HANSEN, PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES, SOURCE: *PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND 2016 **BUPA ***WEBMD

W

hen you think about
health risks, what do
you worry about
most? Cholesterol
levels? Cancer?
Probably sexually
transmitted diseases are at the
bottom of the list. But they shouldn't
be. While those affected are mostly
young people under the age of 25
and men who have sex with men,
older people are also at risk - and
increasingly so.
A 2015 report from Public Health
England found that for people in their
40s, 50s and 60s, the rate of STIs
such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and
syphilis has gone up by almost 50%.
This could be because an increasing
number of older people are having
risky sex lives - often with several
partners. For some, this is because
they're returning to the dating scene
after separating from long-term
partners. Some older adults may not
have used a condom for years when
having marital sex, so don't consider
using them with new partners.
A spokesperson for the Family
Planning Association (fpa.org.uk)
says: 'The problem is that lots of older
people, single or dating, don't think
safe sex applies to them. If you've been
in a long-term relationship, it may
not be something you've had to
factor in for years.
'And, after the menopause, when
pregnancy isn't a concern, using
condoms can be easily forgotten
about. Result? STIs are making a
comeback in a new generation.'

NEW DANGER

Reports have recently focused on
a 'new' infection that we need to be
aware of. The infection - mycoplasma
genitalium (MG) - causes few, if any,
symptoms. MG is a bacterium that
researchers say might be linked to
genitourinary diseases in both men
and women. It is unclear whether it
could trigger further complications,
such as infertility.
A number of recent medical articles
have described MG as a new infection,
but it was actually discovered in
1981 - however, at the time, it was
unclear if it was a sexually transmitted
infection (STI). But new research
suggests it could be.
A study found that around one
in 100 men and women aged 16-44
living in England, Wales and Scotland
are infected with MG, and that it
is likely to be transmitted by sexual
contact. The STI doesn't lead to
symptoms in the majority of men
and around half of women. The study

S E X UA L H E A LT H ▲

FOR PEOPLE IN THEIR 40S, 50S AND
60S, THE RATE OF STIS HAS GONE
UP BY ALMOST 50%
wasn't able to tell if the infection was
causing disease, but there were tentative
signs that it might. For example, more
women with MG infection reported
vaginal bleeding after sex than those
without MG - a possible sign the
infection may be causing disease.
Male prevalence of MG was highest
in those aged 25 to 34, at 2.1%. In
women, it peaked earlier, in those aged
16 to 19 years, at 2.4%.
Black men and men from deprived
areas were most likely to carry the
bacteria, while infection risk increased
for those with more sexual partners and
those who did not practice safe sex.
At the moment, the NHS says more
studies are needed to clarify the risk
and long-term effects of this infection.
But even with limited knowledge, it's
simple to minimise personal risk.
Preventing MG infection is likely to
be the same as preventing other STIs,
so that means using a condom during
oral, anal and vaginal sex.
You only need to have unprotected sex
once to get an STI or to pass one on to
someone else. The more sexual partners
you have, the greater the risk.
These infections don't always have any
symptoms, which means you might not
know if you've caught something. But
symptoms can include an unusual or
smelly discharge, sores or a rash around
the genitals, bleeding or pain during
or after sex, and itching or burning
around your genitals.
If you think you might have an STI,
or are at risk of having one, you can
get tested at a sexual health clinic or
genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.
Even if you don't have symptoms,
regardless of your age, it's a good idea
to go for an annual check-up if you
are sexually active.
It's also advisable to have a sexual
health check if you've started seeing
someone new, or if you and your
partner want to stop using condoms.

GET CHECKED OUT

To visit a GUM clinic, you don't need a
GP referral, or even to tell your doctor.
The clinic won't write to your GP either,
unless you ask them to.
At the clinic, you'll be asked about
your sexual history, habits and lifestyle.
Some of the questions may seem
embarrassing, but it's important to be

honest - the clinic staff will have heard
it all before. Everything that happens at
the clinic is strictly confidential, and your
details will not be passed on to other
doctors, members of your family or to
insurance companies.

SELF-TEST KITS

If you don't want to attend a clinic,
home-testing kits are available for many
infections, including warts, chlamydia,
gonorrhoea and HIV. These can be very
helpful, however the NHS advises that
self-test kits are not 100% reliable and
cannot replace receiving advice from a
healthcare professional. It's important
to be prepared for a positive result and
have the emotional support around
you that you may need.
If you get a positive result at a clinic,
the staff will explain the treatment
options and offer advice on how to avoid
infections in the future. Most STIs can be
cured with a course of antibiotics. Some,
such as HIV have no cure, but treatment
can be given to prevent it getting worse.
If you get the all-clear, ensure it stays
that way. Limiting your sexual partners
will reduce your risk of catching any
STI. Using a condom properly every
time you have sex is still the most
effective protection against infections so,
whatever your age, get into the habit of
unwrapping before you undress.

DID YOU know?
Think you're pretty clued up on STIs? These
statistics may take you by surprise
Around 418,000 STIs
were diagnosed in
England in 2016.*
The most commonly
diagnosed STI was
chlamydia, with
202,546 diagnoses
made in 2016.
Around seven in
10 women and half
of men infected with
chlamydia don't
have any signs or
symptoms.**
Around one in
10 men and half
of all women who

are infected with
gonorrhoea don't have
any symptoms.**
There were 5,920
diagnoses of syphilis
reported in 2016, a 12%
increase compared to
2015 and the largest
number of diagnoses
reported since 1949.*
You don't have
to have penetrative
sex to get an STI.
Some, such as warts,
and herpes, can
be spread by close
contact only.***

www.athomemagazine.co.uk FEBRUARY 2018 | 217


http://fpa.org.uk

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