Per capita incidence of sexually transmitted infections increases systematically with urban population size: a cross-sectional study

Sex Transm Infect. 2015 Dec;91(8):610-4. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2014-051932. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Objectives: Rampant urbanisation rates across the globe demand that we improve our understanding of how infectious diseases spread in modern urban landscapes, where larger and more connected host populations enhance the thriving capacity of certain pathogens.

Methods: A data-driven approach is employed to study the ability of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to thrive in urban areas. The conduciveness of population size of urban areas and their socioeconomic characteristics are used as predictors of disease incidence, using confirmed-case data on STDs in the USA as a case study.

Results: A superlinear relation between STD incidence and urban population size is found, even after controlling for various socioeconomic aspects, suggesting that doubling the population size of a city results in an expected increase in STD incidence larger than twofold, provided that all other socioeconomic aspects remain fixed. Additionally, the percentage of African-Americans, income inequalities, education and per capita income are found to have a significant impact on the incidence of each of the three STDs studied.

Conclusions: STDs disproportionately concentrate in larger cities. Hence, larger urban areas merit extra prevention and treatment efforts, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where urbanisation rates are higher.


Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Income
  • Male
  • Population Density*
  • Risk Factors
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*