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Worldwide, most adults acquire at least one sexually transmitted infection (STI), and many remain at risk for complications. Each year, for example, an estimated 6.2 million persons in the United States acquire a new genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and many of these individuals are at risk for genital neoplasias. Certain STIs, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV infection, hepatitis B, and chancroid, are most concentrated within “core populations” characterized by high rates of partner change, multiple concurrent partners, or “dense,” highly connected sexual networks—e.g., involving sex workers and their clients, some men who have sex with men (MSM), and persons involved in the use of illicit drugs, particularly crack cocaine and methamphetamine. Other STIs are distributed more evenly throughout societies. For example, chlamydial infections, genital infections with HPV, and genital herpes can spread widely, even in relatively low-risk populations.

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In general, the product of three factors determines the initial rate of spread of any STI within a population: rate of sexual exposure of susceptible to infectious people, efficiency of transmission per exposure, and duration of infectivity of those infected. Accordingly, efforts to prevent and control STIs aim to decrease the rate of sexual exposure of susceptibles to infected persons (e.g., through individual counseling and efforts to change the norms of sexual behavior and through a variety of STI control efforts aimed at reducing the proportion of the population infected), to decrease the duration of infectivity (through early diagnosis and curative or suppressive treatment), and to decrease the efficiency of transmission (e.g., through promotion of condom use and safer sexual practices, through use of effective vaccines, and recently through male circumcision).

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In all societies, STIs rank among the most common of all infectious diseases, with >30 infections now classified as predominantly sexually transmitted or as frequently sexually transmissible (Table 130–1). In developing countries, with three-quarters of the world's population and 90% of the world's STIs, factors such as population growth (especially in adolescent and young-adult age groups), rural-to-urban migration, wars, limited or no provision of reproductive health services for women, and poverty create exceptional vulnerability to disease resulting from unprotected sex. During the 1990s in China, Russia, the other states of the former Soviet Union, and South Africa, internal social structures changed rapidly as borders opened to the West, unleashing enormous new epidemics of HIV infection and other STIs. Despite advances in the provision of highly effective antiretroviral therapy worldwide, HIV remains the leading cause of death in some developing countries, and HPV and hepatitis B virus (HBV) remain important causes of cervical and hepatocellular carcinoma, respectively—two of the most common malignancies in the developing world. Sexually transmitted herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections now cause most genital ulcer disease throughout the world and an increasing proportion of cases of genital herpes in developing countries with generalized HIV epidemics, where the positive-feedback loop between HSV and HIV transmission is a growing, intractable problem. Despite this consistent link, randomized trials evaluating the ...

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