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African-American Women and STIs

By Gary Bell

March 31, 2010

Recent news has not been kind about women and girls of color and their sexual health. In 2008, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reported that almost one-half of adolescent black females were infected with at least on STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). Now, new evidence has further documented the impact of STIs on women and girls of color. According to the CDC, 48 percent of black women between ages 14 and 49 have the virus which causes genital herpes. Blacks in general are more than three times as likely as whites to have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) (39.2 percent vs. 12.3 percent). Biological factors make women more susceptible to genital herpes than men. American women in general are nearly twice as likely as men to be infected (21 percent vs. 11 percent). Moreover, up to 80 percent of genital herpes infections in the United States are undiagnosed.

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The news is no better on the local front. A recent report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health revealed a dramatic 238% increase in primary and secondary cases of Syphilis in females. Many of the cases in females occurred in adolescents and young adults aged 15-24 years old.

The high rates of genital herpes infections and syphilis, as well as other STIs among women of color, may contribute toward the high rate of HIV in the black community by making transmission easier. In 2007, more than 25% people infected with HIV in the United States were among women and girls aged 13 years and older. More than 278,000 women and adolescent girls in this country are living with HIV. For female adults and adolescents, the rate of HIV/AIDS diagnoses for black females was nearly 20 times as high as the rate for white females and nearly 4 times as high as the rate for Hispanic/Latino females.

Last year, the CDC implemented new guidelines to encourage HIV testing to be a part of routine medical care. Clearly, sexually transmitted infection screening should also be a part of this routine care. Significant progress in reducing the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa has been made by preventing, diagnosing and treating STIs. It's time we apply these priorities in this country, especially in women and girls of color.

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