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June 16, 2005

High Rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections Found in Young Drug Users

No Difference Found Between Injection and Non-Injection Users

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions found high rates of herpes simplex virus 2 and syphilis among young drug users in Baltimore, Md. The study found that women had significantly higher rates compared to their male counterparts, but did not find significant differences between injection drug users and non-injection drug users. Few of the infected study participants were aware of their sexually transmitted infection. The study is published in the June 2005 issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections.

“We found a high rate of sexually transmitted infections among the injection and non-injection drug users we recruited, which indicates the extent of sexual risk behaviors among both of these populations. Non-injection heroin and/or crack users are rarely the target of sexual or drug risk reduction interventions. Sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment programs need to target drug users,” said Susan G. Sherman, MPH, PhD, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers examined herpes simplex virus 2 and syphilis test results in 543 heroin, cocaine and crack users from Baltimore, Md., aged 18-30 years old. Almost 73 percent of the study participants, who were part of a larger study known as the Risk Evaluation and Assessment of Community Health III cohort, were also injection drug users. The study authors found that over half (58 percent) of the female study participants and a little more than 20 percent of male participants were infected with herpes simplex virus 2. Women were also more likely to have syphilis than men in the study – 4 percent versus less than 1 percent, respectively.

“The sexual behavior of both injection drug users and non-injection drug users is an important public health issue. Intervention and outreach programs for young drug users should offer sexually transmitted infection testing and education, as well as promote safe-sex messages in order to decrease the further spread of all sexually transmitted infections,” said Sherman.

“Herpes simplex virus 2 and syphilis among young drug users in Baltimore, Maryland” was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Additional co-authors of the study were Sabrina S. Plitt, Taha E. Taha and Steffanie A. Strathdee.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.