STD-related health losses higher among American women than men, study finds

March 16, 2023—Three sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs)—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis—cause major health losses in the U.S., and much more so for women than for men, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases on February 18, 2023. Co-authors included Yunfei Li, doctoral student, and Minttu Rönn, research scientist, both in the Department of Global Health and Population.

The authors estimated the impacts for the three STDs using a measure called quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), which takes into account both length and quality of life. To hone in on the number of QALYs lost due to the STDs in men and women of various ages, the researchers used a model that included both health losses associated with each STD as well as 2018 incidence estimates of diagnosed chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The three STDs cause “substantial health losses” in the U.S., particularly from chlamydia, among women, the study found. There were major discrepancies in QALYs lost between men and women, regardless of age or type of infection, resulting in an outsized impact on women’s and reproductive health. Across the country in 2018, chlamydia had the largest impact (111,872 QALYs lost among women versus 1,541 among men), followed by gonorrhea (12,112 QALYs lost among women versus 989 among men) and trichomoniasis (4,576 QALYs lost among women versus 386 among men).

“STDs contribute to a number of adverse health outcomes. Yet we do not have good estimates of the total health burden caused by STDs,” Li said in a March 12 article in Healio News. “Our estimates of lifetime QALYs lost per infection for each of the three STDs can be used in health economic studies for resource prioritization and planning, and for informing control policies.”

Read the Healio News article: Women lose more quality-adjusted life-years than men because of STDs