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Study links erectile drugs, STD rates in users over 40

Data suggest pills’ takers may have more unsafe sex

By Nicole Ostrow
Bloomberg News / July 6, 2010

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NEW YORK — Men age 40 or older who use Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis to boost sexual potency have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, a Harvard study found.

Men who took the impotence pills were almost three times more likely to have a sex disease, particularly HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in the year before and after they started the drugs, according to research published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The higher rate of sexually spread infections could have more to do with the habits or temperament of the men using the erectile drugs than with the medicines enabling them to have more frequent or riskier sex, the authors said.

The findings suggest that users of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, which also include Bayer AG’s Levitra, could be more likely to engage in unsafe sex than nonusers, said Anupam Jena, the lead author of the study. Although sexual diseases are far more common in young people, infection rates are increasing in those middle-aged and older, the researchers said.

“Younger people have more sex partners than older folks,’’ said Jena, a medical resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “But per sexual encounter, the actual safeness of the sex is probably lower among older folks in the sense that they don’t use condoms.’’

Indeed, people ages 40 to 49 accounted for the largest proportion of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases, 27 percent, in 2007, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those 50 to 59 accounted for 13 percent, while those over the age of 60 accounted for 4 percent.

“Old folks can contract STDs and we need to be vigilant about it,’’ Jena said in an interview.

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