Sexual networks and sexually transmitted infections: a tale of two cities

J Urban Health. 2001 Sep;78(3):433-45. doi: 10.1093/jurban/78.3.433.


Research on risk behaviors for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has revealed that they seldom correspond with actual risk of infection. Core groups of people with high-risk behavior who form networks of people linked by sexual contact are essential for STI transmission, but have been overlooked in epidemiological studies. Social network analysis, a subdiscipline of sociology, provides both the methods and analytical techniques to describe and illustrate the effects of sexual networks on STI transmission. Sexual networks of people from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, infected with chlamydia during a 6-month period were compared. In Winnipeg, 442 networks were identified, comprising 571 cases and 663 contacts, ranging in size from 2 to 20 individuals; Colorado Springs data yielded 401 networks, comprising 468 cases and 700 contacts, ranging in size from 2 to 12 individuals. Taking differing partner notification methods and the slightly smaller population size in Colorado Springs into account, the networks from both places were similar in both size and structure. These smaller, sparsely linked networks, peripheral to the core, may form the mechanism by which chlamydia can remain endemic, in contrast with larger, more densely connected networks, closer to the core, which are associated with steep rises in incidence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Black People
  • Chlamydia Infections / epidemiology
  • Chlamydia Infections / transmission
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Contact Tracing / methods
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / epidemiology
  • Gonorrhea / transmission
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Male
  • Manitoba / epidemiology
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Phenotype
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission*
  • Social Support*
  • Sociometric Techniques