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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 1996 Aug;71(3):415-71.

Sexually transmitted diseases in animals: ecological and evolutionary implications.

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Department of Botany, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have been generally thought of as a small subset of infectious diseases, rather than as an important group of diseases that occur in numerous species. In this paper, we have (1) briefly reviewed theoretical studies on the dynamics of STDs; (2) documented the distribution of STDs in the animal kingdom; and (3) investigated whether STDs have characteristics which distinguish them from other infectious diseases. The dynamics of STDs should differ from those of ordinary infectious diseases because their transmission depends on the frequency rather than density of infectives. With this type of transmission, there is no threshold density for disease spread, and the conditions for host-pathogen coexistence are more restrictive. Nevertheless, a wide variety of disease characteristics may allow a sexually transmitted pathogen to coexist with its host. We found over 200 diseases for which there was evidence of sexual transmission. They occurred in groups as diverse as mammals, reptiles, arachnids, insects, molluscs and nematodes. Sexually transmitted pathogens included protozoans, fungi, nematodes, helminths, and cancerous cell lines, as well as bacteria and viruses. Detailed comparison of the characteristics of sexually transmitted mammalian diseases with those that are transmitted by non-sexual means, showed that STDs cause less mortality, are longer-lived in their hosts, are less likely to invoke strong immune responses, have narrower host-ranges, and show less fluctuation in prevalence over time. These shared features are related to mode of transmission rather than either host or pathogen taxonomic affiliation. This suggests an evolutionary explanation based on shared ecologies rather than one based on phylogenetic history.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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