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Objectives: To estimate prevalence and risk factors for herpes simplex 2 (HSV2) positivity, syphilis and Chlamydia trachomatis infection among rural people aged 15–34 in the Gambia.
Methods: Questionnaires and serum samples were collected from 1076 men and women aged 15–34 during a cross sectional prevalence survey in a rural area of the Gambia. Sera were screened for antibodies to herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2), and for syphilis using Treponema pallidum haemagglutination assay (TPHA) and rapid plasma reagin (RPR) tests. Urine was tested by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for C trachomatis infection.
Results: 28% of women and 5% of men were HSV2 ELISA positive; 10% of women and 2% of men were TPHA positive; and 7% of women and 1% of men were both RPR and TPHA positive. Out of 1030 urine sample tested only six were positive for C trachomatis. 7% of those who reported never having sex were positive for one or other of these tests. Prevalences of all STIs increased with age and were higher in women than men. Women were much less likely than men to seek treatment for STI symptoms at a health centre. Married people were at increased risk of an STI compared with single people. Jola and Fula women had a higher prevalence of HSV2 than women from other ethnic groups, and Fulas also had a higher prevalence of RPR/TPHA positivity. The limited number of sexual behaviour questions were not significantly associated with STIs after adjustment for age, marital status, and ethnic group.
Conclusions: The prevalences of the ulcerative infections HSV2 and syphilis in this population are a cause for concern. In a setting where HIV1 prevalence remains low this indicates an urgent need for STI control and behaviour change programmes to prevent an HIV epidemic. Concerns about the validity of reported sexual behaviour data high light the necessity of biological markers in the evaluation of behaviour change programmes.
Key Words: seroepidemiological studies; Africa; herpes simplex virus