STDs in Women and Infants
This web page is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being updated. Newer data is available on the STD Data and Statistics page.
Public Health Impact
Women and infants disproportionately bear the long-term consequences of STDs. Women infected with C. trachomatis or N. gonorrhoeae can develop PID, which, in turn, can lead to reproductive system morbidity such as ectopic pregnancy and tubal factor infertility. An estimated 10%–20% of women with chlamydia or gonorrrhea may develop PID if they do not receive adequate treatment.1 Among women with PID, tubal scarring can cause involuntary infertility in 20% of women, ectopic pregnancy in 9%, and chronic pelvic pain in 18%.2
About 80%–90% of chlamydial infections and 50% of gonococcal infections in women are asymptomatic.3–5 These infections are detected primarily through screening. The vague symptoms associated with PID cause 85% of women to delay seeking medical care, thereby increasing the risk for infertility and ectopic pregnancy.6 Data from a randomized controlled trial of chlamydia screening in a managed care setting suggest that such screening programs can reduce the incidence of PID by as much as 60%.7
HPV infections are highly prevalent in the United States, especially among young sexually active women. Although most HPV infections in women resolve within 1 year, they are a major concern because persistent infection with specific types of the virus are causally related to cervical cancer; these types also cause Papanicolaou (Pap) smear abnormalities. Other types cause genital warts, low-grade Pap smear abnormalities, and, rarely, recurrent respiratory papillomatosis in infants born to infected mothers.8
Direct Impact on Pregnancy
Chlamydia and gonorrhea can result in adverse outcomes of pregnancy, including neonatal ophthalmia and in the case of chlamydia, neonatal pneumonia. Although topical prophylaxis of infants at delivery is effective for prevention of gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum, prevention of neonatal pneumonia requires prenatal detection and treatment.
Genital infections with HSV are extremely common, can cause painful outbreaks, and can have serious consequences for pregnant women.9
When a woman has a syphilis infection during pregnancy, she can transmit the infection to the fetus in utero. This transmittal can result in fetal death or an infant born with physical and mental developmental disabilities. Most cases of congenital syphilis are easily preventable if women are screened for syphilis and treated early during prenatal care.10
During 2008–2009, the rate of chlamydial infections in women increased from 579.4 to 592.2 cases per 100,000 females (Figure 1, Table 4). Chlamydia rates exceeded gonorrhea rates among women in all states (Figures A and C, Tables 4 and 14).
Prevalence Monitoring Project
Prenatal Clinics—In 2009, the median state-specific chlamydia test positivity among women aged 15–24 years who were screened in selected prenatal clinics in 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands was 7.7% (range: 3.6% to 20.4%) (Figure B).
Family Planning Clinics—In 2009, the median state-specific chlamydia test positivity among women aged 15–24 years who were screened during visits to selected family planning clinics in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands was 7.5% (range: 3.5% to 15.5%) (Figure 11)
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is often asymptomatic in women. Thus, gonorrhea screening is an important strategy for the identification of gonorrhea among women. Large-scale screening programs for gonorrhea in women began in the 1970s. After an initial increase in cases detected through screening, gonorrhea rates for both women and men declined steadily throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and then reached a plateau (Figure 15). The gonorrhea rate for women (105.5 cases per 100,000 females) decreased in 2009 for the second time in 2 years (Figure 15, Table 14).
Although the gonorrhea rate in men has historically been higher than the rate in women, the gonorrhea rate among women has been slightly higher than the rate among men for 8 consecutive years (Figure 15, Tables 14 and 15).
Prevalence Monitoring Project
Prenatal Clinics—In 2009, the median state-specific gonorrhea test positivity among women aged 15–24 years who were screened in selected prenatal clinics in 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands was 1.2% (range: 0.0% to 5.5%) (Figure D).
Family Planning Clinics—In 2009, the median state-specific gonorrhea test positivity among women aged 15–24 years who were screened during visits to selected family planning clinics in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands was 1.0% (range: 0.0% to 3.4%) (Figure 25).
Trends in congenital syphilis usually follow trends in P&S syphilis among women, with a lag of 1–2 years (Figure 46). The rate of P&S syphilis among women declined 95.4% (from 17.3 to 0.8 cases per 100,000 females) during 1990–2004 (Figure 33). The rate of congenital syphilis declined by 92.4% (from a peak of 107.3 cases to 8.2 cases per 100,000 live births) during 1991–2005 (Table 40). However, the rate in women has increased since 2004, and the rate of congenital syphilis has likewise increased since 2005.
The rate of P&S syphilis among women was 1.4 cases per 100,000 women in 2009 (Table 26), and the rate of congenital syphilis was 10.0 cases per 100,000 live births in 2009 (Table 40). The highest rates of P&S syphilis among women and congenital syphilis were observed in the South (Figures E and F, Table 40).
Although most cases of congenital syphilis occur among infants whose mothers have had some prenatal care, late or limited prenatal care has been associated with congenital syphilis. Failure of health care providers to adhere to maternal syphilis screening recommendations also contributes to the occurrence of congenital syphilis.11
Accurate estimates of PID and tubal factor infertility resulting from chlamydial and gonococcal infections are difficult to obtain, in part because definitive diagnoses of these conditions can be complex. Hospitalizations for PID declined steadily throughout the 1980s and early 1990s,12,13 but remained relatively constant from 2000 through 2007, the most recent year for which data are available (Figure G).
Racial disparities in diagnosed PID have been observed in both ambulatory and hospitalized settings. Disease rates were two to three times higher among black women than among white women. These disparities are consistent with the marked racial disparities observed for chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, because of the subjective methods by which PID is diagnosed, racial disparity data should be interpreted with caution.13
Evidence suggests that health care practices associated with clinical management of ectopic pregnancy changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Before that time, treatment of ectopic pregnancy usually required admission to a hospital. Hospitalization statistics were therefore useful for monitoring trends in ectopic pregnancy. During 1997–2006, hospitalizations for ectopic pregnancy remained generally stable (Figure I).14 As of the publication date of this report, 2008 data were not available. The data that are available suggest that nearly half of all ectopic pregnancies are treated on an outpatient basis.15
2 Westrom L, Joesoef R, Reynolds G, Hagdu A, Thompson SE. Pelvic inflammatory disease and fertility: a cohort study of 1,844 women with laparoscopically verified disease and 657 control women with normal laparoscopy. Sex Transm Dis. 1992;9:185-92.
3 Hook EW III, Handsfield HH. Gonococcal infections in the adult. In: Holmes KK, Sparling PF, Stamm WE , Piot P, Wasserheit JN, Corey L, et al, editors. Sexually transmitted diseases. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2008. p. 627-45.
4 Stamm WE. Chlamydia trachomatis infections in the adult. In: Holmes KK, Sparling PF, Stamm WE, Piot P, Wasserheit JN, Corey L, et al, editors. Sexually transmitted diseases. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2008. p. 575-93.
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention of genital HPV infection and sequelae: report of an external consultants’ meeting. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 1999.
10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for prevention and control of congenital syphilis. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1988;37(No. SS-1).
11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Congenital syphilis — United States, 2003–2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59:413-17.
13 Sutton MY, Sternberg M, Zaidi A, St. Louis ME, Markowitz LE. Trends in pelvic inflammatory disease hospital discharges and ambulatory visits, United States, 1985–2001. Sex Transm Dis. 2005;32(12)778-84.
15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ectopic pregnancy in the United States, 1990–1992. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1995;44:46-8.
- Page last reviewed: November 22, 2010 (archived document)
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