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- Written by Dr. Patricia Shelton on February 13, 2022
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are common in the population, and many people will be exposed to one or more STDs during their lifetime. Many people wonder about the statistics around STDs.
How common are STDs? Who is most likely to get one? Which states have the highest rates of STDs? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about STD statistics.
What are the most common STDs by percentage?
According to data from the CDC, this is the list of STDs from most common to least common, as measured by prevalence (the number of people who are currently infected):
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Herpes (HSV-2)
- Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
How long have STDs been around?
Sexually transmitted diseases are not a new phenomenon. In fact, STDs have been reported since antiquity. The ancient Egyptians described symptoms that indicate herpes. Ancient Chinese and Indian texts also describe symptoms of STDs. The term gonorrhea was actually coined by a doctor in the ancient Roman empire, and the disease was well-known at that time. Syphilis has been around at least since the Middle Ages, and it might be much older.
STDs have been a fact of life for much of recorded history, although we have only recently developed the widespread availability of condoms, which allow people to have sex while greatly reducing the spread of STDs.
What are the STD demographics?
STDs are more common in younger people. In the US, about half of all new cases of STDs occur in people ages 15 to 24. This likely reflects riskier behavior in this age group, as younger people generally tend to have more new sexual partners and are less likely to be in a long-term monogamous relationship than older people.
In general, studies have shown that women are at a higher risk for getting an STD than men are. This appears to be because many STDs are transmitted in genital fluids, and heterosexual sex involves greater transmission of fluids from male to female than vice versa. Men who have sex with men are also at increased risk, particularly if they engage in anal sex, which is riskier than oral sex.
How many Americans are living with an incurable STI?
Some STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, can be treated with antibiotics. (Recently, a few cases of antibiotic-resistant “super gonorrhea” have been reported, but gonorrhea is still considered treatable in most cases.) However, there are certain STDs that doctors cannot get rid of with any current medications.
Currently, in the US, there are an estimated:
- 42.5 million cases of HPV
- 18.6 million cases of HSV-2 (the virus that usually causes genital herpes)
- 984,000 cases of HIV
- 103,000 cases of hepatitis B
In general, all of these diseases can be considered incurable, because there is no medical treatment that can get rid of the virus. However, there is treatment available for some of them (including HIV and herpes), which may help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
How many STDs are there in the world?
It’s difficult to acquire accurate data on the prevalence of STDs worldwide, because reporting is not always complete in every part of the world. The most recent World Health Organization estimates indicate a combined 374 million new cases per year of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
In addition, it’s estimated that 490 million people have genital herpes infection. (This is a lifelong infection for most people; even though they don’t always have active herpes sores, the virus lives inside of the body for life and can reactivate from time to time.) In addition, an estimated 296 million people have chronic hepatitis B, which can be transmitted either sexually or through sharing needles. 300 million women are estimated to be infected with HPV. This virus can lead to cervical cancer, and is of particular concern in areas where women may lack access to Pap smears.
STD rates by county and state
If you’re interested in finding out your probability of getting an STD, then you might want to look at more local data. The CDC publishes statistics on STDs by state. For the following STDs, you can view a table that lists the states in order, by the percent of the population with the STD.
A useful resource from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute shows data on STDs by county. You can find it here. Click on “Explore the Data” and then choose your state to see the statistics for each county.
What are the chances of catching an STD?
Usually, when people are wondering about STD statistics, this is their ultimate question. In the US, the CDC estimates that 1 in 5 people currently have an STD. This may help to understand how big the risk of getting an STD actually is. Some STDs don’t cause symptoms in many people, and so it’s very possible for a person to have an STD and not know it.
For virtually every type of STD, condoms provide excellent protection against getting the disease. Although they aren’t perfect, they greatly reduce your chances of catching an STD. For some diseases, like herpes, condoms provide a little less protection, but it’s still definitely better to use a condom than not to use one. There are also vaccines available that can help to protect you from HPV and hepatitis B.
If you’re concerned about a possible exposure to an STD, then testing is the only way to know for sure whether you have it. Because of the lack of symptoms in many people, you won’t be able to tell without a test. If you’re sexually active outside of a mutually monogamous relationship, then you should seek testing on a regular basis in order to ensure that you don’t have any unknown STDs. You can go to a clinic for your testing, or you may prefer the convenience of home testing for STDs.
CDC estimates 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0125-sexualy-transmitted-infection.html. Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
CDC Fact Sheet: What Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/std/life-stages-populations/stdfact-msm.htm. Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
Gruber F, Lipozencic J, et al. History of venereal diseases from antiquity to the renaissance. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat 2015;23(1):1-11.
Panchanadeswaran S, Johnson SC, et al. Gender differences in the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and genital symptoms in an urban setting in southern India. Sex Transm Infect 2006 Dec; 82(6): 491–495. doi: 10.1136/sti.2006.020768
Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/2019/tables.htm. Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). World Health Organization (2021). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sexually-transmitted-infections-(stis). Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
Sexually transmitted infections. University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (2021). https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/measures-data-sources/county-health-rankings-model/health-factors/health-behaviors/sexual-activity/sexually-transmitted-infections. Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
Sexually Transmitted Infections Prevalence, Incidence, and Cost Estimates in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/prevalence-2020-at-a-glance.htm. Accessed 13 Feb 2022.
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