US has epidemic of sexually transmitted disease

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 12 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1616
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. New York

    The incidence and prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States are among the highest in the industrialised world, reveal latest figures.

    The United States had 15.3 million new cases of sexually transmitted disease in 1996 and more than 68 million Americans now have an incurable sexually transmitted disease such as herpes, human papillomavirus infection, hepatitis B, or HIV infection. Figures are based on estimates by an expert panel convened last week in New York by the American Social Health Association for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Both are not for profit public health organisations.

    Dr Linda Alexander, president of the American Social Health Association, warned: “One American in five over the age of 12 has genital herpes. Women are at a biological disadvantage: their rate is probably one in four.” Teenagers and young adults are most affected by sexually transmitted diseases. By the age of 24, one in three sexually active people in the United States has had a sexually transmitted disease.

    The latest figure of 15.3 million sexually transmitted infections each year is higher than the 12 million cases estimated a decade ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but probably does not reflect a massive increase. The higher figure is partly due to more sensitive tests and screening that can now identify asymptomatic infections, said Dr Willard Cates Jr, formerly with the Centers for Disease Control. However, sexually transmitted infections now cost the US economy $8.4 billion (£5.25 billion) each year for medical treatment.

    The most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States is chlamydia, with three million new cases each year. Two thirds of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases are due to trichomoniasis (five million cases a year) and infection with the human papillomavirus (5.5 million cases a year).

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