Almost 400M New Cases Annually of Four Curable STIs, WHO Says

Megan Brooks
June 06, 2019

Every day, more than 1 million people around the world contract chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, or syphilis, amounting to more than 376 million new cases annually of these four curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to new global data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

"We're seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide. This is a wake-up call for a concerted effort to ensure everyone, everywhere can access the services they need to prevent and treat these debilitating diseases," the WHO's Peter Salama said in a statement.

The study was published online June 6 in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. It provides global estimates of the prevalence and incidence of urogenital infection with chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis in men and women aged 15 to 49 years in 2016.

For women, global prevalence estimates are 3.8% for chlamydia, 0.9% for gonorrhea, 5.3% for trichomoniasis, and 0.5% for syphilis. The corresponding rates in men are 2.7%, 0.7%, 0.6%, and 0.5%.

Total estimated new incident cases of these four STIs in 2016 were 376.4 million, including 127.2 million cases of chlamydia, 86.9 million of gonorrhoea, 156 million of trichomoniasis, and 6.3 million of syphilis, Melanie Taylor, MD, MPH, medical epidemiologist with the WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, and colleagues report in their article.

On average, roughly 1 in 25 people globally have at least one of the four STIs, according to the latest figures, with some experiencing multiple infections at the same time, Taylor said during a press briefing.

Dangerous, Persistent, and Hidden Epidemic

The global burden of these STIs is "incredibly high," said Taylor, and there has been "no substantial decline" since the last WHO figures were published in 2012.

These four STIs are associated with "stigma [and] shame, and they are hidden or silent because most patients do not have symptoms when they become infected, and they transmit the infection to their partners, and women may transmit these infections to their infants unknowingly," said Taylor. Syphilis alone caused an estimated 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016, she noted.

"This is a dangerous and silent epidemic that is persistent globally," said Taylor.

"STIs are everywhere, but they are not given enough attention, and we are failing in prevention," Teodora Wi, MD, WHO medical officer on STIs, said during the briefing. "We continue to stigmatize people who are living with them. For our healthcare providers, treat STIs like any other infection; do not be the source of stigma. We need to talk openly and honestly about STIs.

"We need to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, screen, and treat STIs. We need point-of-care tests that are cheap, affordable, and available," she added.

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SOURCE: Medscape, June 06, 2019. Bull World Health Organ. Published online June 6, 2019.

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