Background: Accurate, updated estimates of the incidence and prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in the United States remain elusive. The most widely quoted number of new sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases each year is 12 million. However, this figure has not changed in more than a decade, despite improvements in detection methods and the effects of STD control programs.
Goals: To propose a system for weighing the strength of STD surveillance data and to estimate the incidence and prevalence of STDs in the United States for 1996, using the available published data.
Results: We estimate that more than 15 million STD infections occurred in the United States in 1996. This number exceeds the earlier estimate primarily because improved detection techniques have allowed an assessment of previously undiagnosed infections.
Conclusions: Large numbers of new STDs continue to occur each year in the United States, with serious health and economic consequences. More than two thirds of our current estimate of 15 million STDs annually consists of two infections--trichomoniasis and human papillomavirus--for which we have only level III surveillance data. As the quality of our surveillance data improves, we can further refine the precision of our national estimates.