CDC Examines STD Health Disparities

A recent study on sexual transmitted disease (STD) trends in the United States, “Tracking the Hidden Epidemics” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examines the magnitude of STD epidemics by race and ethnicity.

Its key finding: While STDs like chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes are commonly found across all racial and ethnic groups, STD rates tend to be higher among racial and ethnic minority groups than for white Americans.

According to the study, chlamydia is widespread among all populations, regardless of race/ethnicity, age or gender—but prevalence is slightly higher among racial and ethnic minorities, and most often, among minority women.

Gonorrhea rates have increased for all races and ethnic groups since 1997—after declining in all groups for the past few decades—but this STD is more commonly reported among African Americans. Black’s infection rates are 30 times higher than rates among Caucasians and 11 times higher than those of Hispanics. Between 1997-1999, gonorrhea among African Americans increased from 802.4 to 848.8 cases per 100,000; from 67.4 to 75.3 cases per 100,000 for Hispanics; from 99.4 to 110.7 for American Indians/Alaskan Natives, and from 19.5 to 22.1 for Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Syphilis also disproportionately affects African Americans, leading the CDC study to call it “one of the most glaring examples of existing gaps in minority health status.” Reported cases of syphilis are 30 times higher for African Americans than for whites. This STD is also an issue for Hispanics—their rates of infection increased 20% during the two years covered by the study.

Genital herpes is on the rise for young Caucasians, the researchers reported, but is still more common among African Americans, who have a seroprevalence of more than 45%, as compared to 17% whites. Similarly, Hepatitis B, a serious viral disease that attacks the liver, has a seroprevalence of 12% for African Americans, compared to three percent for whites and 4.4% for Hispanics.

The study emphasizes the need for increased STD prevention education in minority communities, stating, “Efforts are underway to increase both public and private sector HIV and STD prevention efforts in communities at risk throughout the nation. Yet, research demonstrates that some groups at very high risk still lack even basic information about STD prevention.”