How Widespread Are STDs Where You Live?
If you're looking for love in the land of the Delta Blues, you should consider that Memphis, Tennessee, is ranked No. 1 for having the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the country.
Memphis claimed the top spot with 1,460 sexually transmitted diseases recorded per 100,000 people, according to an analysis of the most recent federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The city's designation gives new meaning to the 1972 hit "Burning Love" by legendary Memphian Elvis Presley.
Innerbody Research, a health research firm based in Palo Alto, California, recently released its sixth annual report ranking American states and cities based on STD infection rates recorded by the CDC.
Memphis is obviously not alone as the incidence of STDs has been rising nationwide for years. In 2019, the number of new STD infections in the United States reached an all-time high for the sixth consecutive year, increasing from 1.9 million cases in 2014 to more than 2.6 million in 2019.
The CDC's most recent report measured the number of cases of chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV recorded in 2020; cases of herpes and other STDs were not included.
Why should you care?
While STD rates in the U.S. have been rising for years, the research group noted troubling trends emerging in the South.
Rather than shame city and state governments for their climbing rates, Innerbody Research CEO and co-founder Eric Rodriguez said his company's report is intended to bring awareness to the STD epidemic and remind all Americans of the importance of regular STD testing.
"I think that the geographical part is not the most important part," Rodriguez said. "Although it's attention-grabbing, pitting cities against each other, the reality is, according to the CDC, STD rates are rising across the board."
Still, trends are hard to ignore in the South. Innerbody Research found seven of the top 10 states with the highest STD rates are located in the Southern region, according to its analysis of federal data from the CDC's latest Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report.
The following states had the highest rates of STDs per 100,000 people:
- New York
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
Texas, the second-most populous state in the U.S., came in just shy of the top 10 at No. 11. California, the country's most populous state, ranked 16th. You can find where your state is ranked in the Innerbody report linked here.
In interviews with other news outlets, Rodriguez said certain city or state officials would likely point to their improved overall ranking, but he cautioned against any celebration.
"For the most part, we are not seeing absolute improvements," he said. "If a certain city is getting better in the rankings, it's usually because another city is jumping them, not because they're doing well. That was the most surprising thing."
Six of the top 10 cities with the highest STD rates are located in the South:
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Columbia, South Carolina
- New Orleans
- Little Rock, Arkansas
- Washington, D.C.
- Norfolk, Virginia
Rodriguez, co-author of the analysis, said he found another tidbit personally disconcerting in light of the new CDC data.
"It was also surprising to me that certain state governments, especially like in Tennessee, are declining federal funds that are available to help fight STDs even though these rates are still going up," he explained.
His group noted the "STD burden" remains unequally high among minority racial and ethnic groups.
"Though non-Hispanic Black people comprise approximately 12 percent of the country's total population, they account for a disproportionate 32 percent of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea infections," the group's analysis stated.
The most important takeaway from the new data is that sexually active Americans need to get tested, Rodriguez said.
"Number one is to get tested frequently if you're sexually active," he recommended. "Get tested frequently because what a lot of people don't realize is that many STDs are curable, and if they're not curable, a lot of them are manageable now with today's medicine. But the thing is, if you don't know you have one, it's impossible to protect yourself and the people you care about in your life."
The stigma surrounding STDs shouldn't keep people from getting tested, he added.
"If you're kind of embarrassed to talk with your doctor or somebody like that, keep in mind that there are many home testing options," Rodriguez said. "It's very private, very discreet and you send back a sample and they'll let you know in a couple of days what your status is."
To find a free STD testing site near you, visit the CDC website.