Objectives: To determine the prevalence of major sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and gynaecological morbidity in women of reproductive age living in rural communities in north-east Brazil and to assess risk factors associated with the presence of STIs.
Methods: A total of 341 women (84%) were examined gynaecologically and colposcopically. The gynaecological history was taken by means of a standardized, pre-tested questionnaire. Cervical smears were obtained and vaginal fluid was collected. Vulvovaginal candidiasis (VC), bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomoniasis (TV) and syphilis seroreactivity were determined by standard laboratory techniques. Infections with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis and human papilloma virus (HPV) were diagnosed by hybrid capture assays using vaginal lavage fluid. Odds ratios (OR) were calculated to assess risk factors associated with STIs.
Results: The prevalence of HPV, BV and TV was 26%, 15% and 10%, respectively. VC as well as infections with N. gonorrhoeae and C. trachomatis were detected in 6%; syphilis seroreactivity, in 3%. Multiple infections were very common, and 51% of women had at least one STI. Vaginal discharge, the predominant morbidity (56%), was significantly associated with BV (OR = 6.3; P < 0.001), vulvovaginal itching with VC (OR = 3.5; P < 0.05) and lower abdominal pain with C. trachomatis infection (OR = 2.6; P < 0.04). Colpitis was diagnosed in 27% of women and significantly associated with TV (OR = 3.5%; P < 0.001) and VC (OR = 2.9; P < 0.05). Being unmarried was a significant risk factor for having an STI (OR = 2.4; P < 0.05). Among unmarried women, age (<20 years) was a significant risk factor (OR = 3.3; P = 0.01).
Conclusions: The STIs are highly prevalent in this female population in the rural hinterland of north-east Brazil and associated with considerable morbidity. In view of the expected spread of HIV from the urban centres at the coast to the interior there is an urgent need for providing STI-related health care and health education for adolescents and women in rural Brazil.