Background: Despite a declining incidence during the AIDS era, gonorrhea remains the most frequently reported communicable disease in the United States.
Methods: During 1986 and 1987 we supplemented gonorrhea case reporting with laboratory surveillance in King County, Washington. Incidence rates were correlated with demographic variables.
Results: Overall incidence of gonorrhea was similar for men and women, but highest for 16- to 21-year-old females and urban Seattle residents. Incidence rates by ethnicity were Blacks, 3033; Native Americans, 843; Hispanics, 617; Asians, 190; and Whites, 121. Census tracts representing the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) quartile accounted for 58% of reported gonorrhea. Black female teenagers residing in the lowest SES urban areas had highest incidence rates: aged 14 to 15, 3.4%; 16 to 17, 10.4%; 18, 17.0%; and 19, 15.4%. Rates in female teenagers were even higher after adjustment for estimated proportion of those who were sexually experienced.
Conclusions: Gonorrhea incidence is associated with age, gender, ethnicity, SES, and residence. Identification of populations at highest risk for gonorrhea can direct interventions against all sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly, interventions to alter high-risk behaviors must be initiated in early adolescence.