These U.S. States Have The Highest STI Rates, According To A New Study

It's that uncomfortable conversation you don't want to have with your intimate partner: whether or not your partner might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some people might not know they have an STI and can spread the infection without knowing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), STIs overall have been steadily increasing over the past 20 years, with 2.5 million new cases reported in 2022. Syphilis in particular has skyrocketed, with new cases increasing fivefold since 2000.

A 2022 report from the CDC considers syphilis and congenital syphilis rising nationwide at epidemic levels since 2018 and warns that prevention strategies are necessary. On the other hand, gonorrhea cases have dropped off after seeing a steady rise since 2018. Chlamydia had seen a peak in cases in 2019, but now the number of cases has leveled off.

Yet, depending on where you live, you could see a higher concentration of STIs. Some states have up to three times more cases of certain STIs than the national average, and some of these states consistently rank high in more than one type of STI. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Dakota have some of the highest rates of STIs in the United States.

The breakdown of states with the most and least STIs

Louisiana has the highest rate of chlamydia, with 789 cases per 100,000 people, almost 60% higher than the national average. Mississippi is a close second with 781, and Alaska is third. Vermont has the lowest rate of chlamydia, according to the CDC's state ranking tables.

In terms of gonorrhea, Mississippi tops the CDC's chart with 372 cases per 100,000 people, nearly doubling the rate of the U.S. average. South Dakota and Louisiana also rank high in gonorrhea. Vermont again has low rates of gonorrhea.

The U.S. has low rates of primary and secondary syphilis, with about 18 cases for every 100,000 people. South Dakota has more than three times that many cases, but New Mexico and Arkansas are distant second and third, with about twice the national average for syphilis. Yes, you guessed it. Vermont has the fewest cases nationwide.

New Mexico also leads the nation in congenital syphilis, with South Dakota not falling far behind. Both states have three times the rate of congenital syphilis as the national average of 102 cases per 100,000 people. Arizona ranks third in rates of congenital syphilis. There were no reported cases of congenital syphilis in Vermont, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Preventing and treating STIs

Chlamydia might not come with symptoms, but common symptoms include pain during urination or an unusual discharge from your genitals or anus. Chlamydia is often treated with antibiotics. People with gonorrhea might also feel pain while peeing or during genital discharge. Women might have abdominal pain, and men might have pain in one of their testicles. Gonorrhea is also treated with antibiotics. Syphilis might appear as a small ulcer on infected areas such as the genitals, mouth, or rectum. People with syphilis might also feel swelling of the lymph nodes near the infection. Penicillin and doxycycline are two antibiotics used to treat syphilis.

Even though it might be embarrassing to see a doctor about a possible STI, it's important to seek treatment to avoid complications. The CDC says that 6% of HIV infections stem from a chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis infection. If left untreated, you also run the risk of spreading an STI to your partners. Untreated syphilis can impair your nervous system, and it can harm a fetus if you're pregnant with syphilis. Women can suffer from infertility or pelvic inflammatory disease if their STI goes untreated. Men could see urethra or prostate infections or swollen testicles (per Cleveland Clinic).