Variations in sexual network connectivity may explain dramatic variations in sexually transmitted infection prevalence between populations and over time: a selected four-country analysis [version 2]

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Background: The incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has been noted to vary dramatically between population groups and over time. Here, the hypothesis that changes in network connectivity underpin these changes is explored. Methods: The incidence/prevalence estimates of HIV, herpes simplex virus-2, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhoea, as well as two markers of sexual network connectivity (partner concurrency and multiple partnering) by ethnic group and sexual orientation in Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (USA) were extracted from published studies. Pearson's correlation was used to test the association between the markers of network connectivity and the incidence/prevalence of these five STIs. A literature review was performed to evaluate the possible causes of the increases and decreases in syphilis incidence over the past 60 years. Results: In each country, the five STIs were found to cluster in particular ethnic groups and sexual orientations and to be positively associated with the two markers of network connectivity. Syphilis incidence in the UK and USA was found to increase dramatically in the 1960s/1970s, decline in the 1980s and again increase in the late 1990s. These changes took place predominantly in men who have sex with men, and were preceded by corresponding changes in network connectivity. The large decline in antenatal syphilis prevalence in Kenya and South Africa in the 1990s were likewise preceded by declines in network connectivity. Conclusions: Although other explanatory variables are not controlled for, the present analysis is compatible with the hypothesis that differential network connectivity is a parsimonious explanation for variations in STI incidence over time and between populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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