From the Biennial Conference of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Diseases Research:
Transgendered women are at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, but, unfortunately, many are unable or unwilling to access health care for various reasons. But some transgendered women do seek regular health care, and primary care physicians should keep in mind that this population is at increased risk STDs, particularly syphilis, according to Dr. Beau Gratzer of Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.
The Howard Brown Health Center was founded to help combat the health care disparities experienced by LGBT individuals, Dr. Gratzer said. The center provides a range of services, including prevention and treatment services for HIV, psychiatric and counseling services, and STD screening and treatment services.
The center has long been active in syphilis prevention and elimination. In 2009, staff members noticed a spike in the number of syphilis cases in young, transgendered women, when 89 syphilis tests yielded 10 new cases, compared with 2 new cases out of 151 syphilis tests conducted from 2005-2008. In 2010, 215 tests yielded 20 new syphilis cases.
More than 60% of the syphilis cases in non-Hispanic blacks occurred in transgendered individuals, Dr. Gratzer said. By contrast, 10% of the cases in non-Hispanic whites occurred in transgendered individuals, and almost 50% occurred in MSM.
Risk factors for syphilis among the transgendered women seen at the Howard Center included unemployment (approximately 54%), transactional sex (40%), transient housing (30%), and prison time (25%). The individuals with syphilis reported a median of 10 sex partners in the past year, but the number ranged from 0-60.
“All transgender cases were found through screening or as a result of symptoms.” Dr. Gratzer emphasized.
The study findings underscore the importance of STD screening across a number of high-risk populations, if and when they do seek primary care, Dr. Gratzer said. If primary care physicians are aware that they have transgendered patients in their practices, screening for sexually transmitted diseases should be part of routine clinical care, so any conditions can be identified and treated as soon as possible, he said.
On Twitter @hsplete