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OBJECTIVE--To determine risk factors for syphilis and sexually transmitted disease (STD) syndromes, and to study health seeking behaviour among those with STD syndromes, in the population of Mwanza Region, North-Western Tanzania. METHODS--A population-based random cluster sample survey, stratified by rural, roadside or urban residence, of 4173 individuals aged 15-54 years was performed in 1990-91. The seroprevalence of syphilis and the prevalence and incidence of self-reported genital ulcer syndrome (GUS) and genital discharge syndrome (GDS) are reported in the accompanying paper. This paper reports on risk factors for these conditions and on health seeking behaviour among those reporting them. RESULTS--In both sexes, the risk of STDs increased with the reported number of sexual partners in the previous five years. Men who were separated, divorced or widowed were at increased risk of STDs, but this was not the case among women. Higher educational status was associated with an increased risk of urethral discharge in males but with a decreased prevalence of syphilis in females. Male circumcision was associated with an increased risk of urethral discharge but a reduced prevalence of syphilis. Nearly all men, and 90% of women, reporting symptoms of genital discharge or ulceration had sought treatment. Of these, approximately 70% of males and 60% of females had sought treatment in the official health sector. CONCLUSIONS--Targetted health education concerning risk reduction for HIV infection and other STDs should be a high priority in this population. Improved case management of STDs in health centres and dispensaries may have a substantial impact on the incidence of these infections.