Chlamydia and herpes common among 15 to 24-year-olds: research

14 March 2018 - 06:00 By Dave Chambers
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Image: 123rf/ Jarun Ontakrai

The sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia and herpes are common among 15 to 24-year-olds‚ research has found.

Academics who questioned 447 young people in a rural district of KwaZulu-Natal also found that 42% of females had bacterial vaginosis.

Although this incurable condition is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the scientists said evidence was mounting that sexual transmission was integral to its development.

A team led by Suzanna Francis‚ from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine‚ collaborated with the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban in the research‚ published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

They recruited young people in uMkhanyakude‚ a so-called “health and demographic surveillance site” for the research institute and found the following infection rates:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 2: Female 28.7%‚ males 16.8%
  • Chlamydia: Female 11.2%‚ male 5.3%
  • Trichomoniasis: Female 4.6%‚ male 0.6%
  • Gonorrhea: Female 1.8%‚ male 1.5%
  • Bacterial vaginosis: 42.1% (females only)

Francis said adolescents and young adults were particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections‚ to the extent that a positive test for herpes “could be used as a biological proxy for sexual activity”.

Gathering data on prevalence was the first strategic step in a World Health Organisation five-year programme on STIs‚ and Francis said it was “essential to advocate‚ fund‚ plan‚ implement and evaluate interventions for prevention and control”.

When acquired in adolescence‚ STIs could jeopardise sexual and reproductive health later in life‚ as well as the health of babies.

“STIs can cause serious morbidity‚ including pregnancy complications‚ cancer‚ infertility and enhanced HIV transmission‚” said Francis. “Most of these ... are preventable if STI testing and treatment is implemented.”

“Extremely low” reported condom use the last time the participants in the study had sex was a “tremendous concern”‚ she said. “In addition‚ few participants knew their last partner’s HIV status.”

Francis said current enrolment in school appeared to protect participants from STIs. This confirmed earlier findings “which showed that out-of-school youth reported earlier sexual debut and more high-risk sex than in-school youth‚ suggesting that interventions to keep adolescents in school may be just as relevant for other STIs as they are for HIV.”

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