Context: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are responsible for a variety of health problems, and can have especially serious consequences for adolescents and young adults. An international comparison of levels and trends in STDs would be useful to identify countries that are relatively successful in controlling the incidence of STDs, as a first step toward improving policies and programs in countries with high or growing STD incidence.
Methods: Incidence data for the past decade on three common bacterial STDs--syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia--were obtained for as many as 16 developed countries from official statistics, published national sources or scientific articles, and unpublished government data. Rates of incidence per 100,000 were calculated for adolescents, for young adults and for the total population. (These estimates should be considered conservative, because STDs commonly are underreported.)
Results: The incidence of these three STDs has generally decreased over the last decade, both in the general population and among adolescents. However, the Russian Federation is an important exception: Syphilis has risen dramatically in the 1990s. Except in the Russian Federation and Romania, the syphilis rate in the mid-1990s was quite low, with rates of less than seven reported cases per 100,000 teenagers in most developed countries. Gonorrhea incidence is many times higher than that of syphilis in several countries, and this disease disproportionately affects adolescents and young adults. Gonorrhea rates among adolescents can be as high as 600 per 100,000 (in the Russian Federation and the United States), although in many countries the reported rate among teenagers is below 10 per 100,000. In all countries with good reporting, chlamydia incidence is extremely high among adolescents (between 563 and 1,081 cases per 100,000). The reported incidence of all three STDs is generally higher among female teenagers than among males of the same age; this is especially true for chlamydia.
Conclusion: Prevention programs, active screening strategies and better access to STD diagnosis and treatment services, especially for adolescents and young adults, are necessary to reduce the incidence and the burden of STDs among young people.