Kentucky generally has relatively low rates of some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and syphilis. But rates of most STDs, including HIV, gonorrhea and others, are rising. The trends here in the commonwealth largely reflect broader trends in the U.S. In fact, nationally, the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis have risen for four straight years.
Which sexually transmitted infections are most common in Kentucky, how have rates of some STDs changed over time, and how does the picture of sexual health change depending on where in the state you’re looking? For answers to those questions, we’ll examine federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chlamydia Rates in Kentucky
The rate at which people are diagnosed with chlamydia here in Kentucky ranks the commonwealth 40th among all states, and Kentucky’s rate is lower than the overall national infection rate for chlamydia.
Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people
While Kentucky’s rate is relatively low, the disease has been gaining ground here in recent years, rising about 10% over the past half-decade.
Kentucky chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Kentucky has the second-lowest rate of chlamydia among all Southern states; six of the 10 states with the highest rates are in the South.
Chlamydia infection rate, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)
Gonorrhea Rates in Kentucky
Prevalence of gonorrhea here in Kentucky puts the commonwealth in the middle nationally, and Kentucky’s population-adjusted gonorrhea rate is close to the overall national level.
Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people, top 25
Gonorrhea rates have grown in Kentucky every year since 2012, jumping more than 70% in that time.
Kentucky gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
The South represents 8 of the top 10 states for gonorrhea, but Kentucky still ranks in the bottom quarter of the region.
Gonorrhea infection rate, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)
Syphilis Rates in Kentucky
Kentucky’s rate of primary and secondary syphilis infections is among the 25 lowest in the country, and the commonwealth’s population adjusted rate is about a third lower than the overall rate for the U.S.
Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people
The prevalence of syphilis has varied widely in Kentucky over the past six years, but it’s gone up for the past three straight years, more than doubling since 2013.
Kentucky primary and secondary syphilis rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Southern states make up half of the states with the 10 highest syphilis rates, but Kentucky is near the bottom regionally.
Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Kentucky
More than 350 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Kentucky in 2017, which ties Kentucky for 25th in the country after adjusting for population differences. Still, Kentucky’s HIV rate (7.9 per 100,000) is lower than the overall national rate of 11.8 per 100,000. However, the commonwealth recorded an increase in HIV between 2016 and 2017. See all HIV test options.
Hepatitis B & C
Infections of both hepatitis B and hepatitis C are more common here in Kentucky than nationally, though rates have varied over the past several years. Acute hep B cases occur at a rate of 5 per 100,000 in Kentucky, far higher than the U.S. rate of 1 per 100,000. Additionally, Kentucky’s rate has increased by more than 30% in recent years. Acute infections of hep C also are much more common here in Kentucky than nationally — 2.3 per 100,000 in Kentucky vs. 1 per 100,000 overall. But in a bit of good news, Kentucky has seen the hep C rate fall by more than 40% over the past couple of years. See all hepatitis test options.
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the single most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. In fact, a large majority of sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives. For most people, HPV clears up, and even for those who develop symptoms, HPV is not always dangerous. But some people will contract strains of the virus that could be dangerous, even leading to cancer. HPV is the leading cause of several types of cancer, including cervical, penile and anal cancers. Because the virus is so prevalent, it’s impossible to pinpoint at any given time how many people here in Kentucky have it, but we can look to HPV-related cancer rates to understand how common untreated HPV is. Kentucky leads the nation in the rate of HPV-related cancer cases at 15.7 cases per 100,000 people. See all HPV test options.
STDs in Kentucky Cities & Counties
Several areas of Kentucky have much higher STD rates than others, and certain metro areas account for an outsized proportion of cases.
Kentucky counties in the Louisville area accounted for nearly 30% of all chlamydia cases in Kentucky in 2017, while Lexington- and Cincinnati-area counties added another 25%.
Kentucky counties by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10
About 2 in 5 cases of gonorrhea in Kentucky occurred in the Louisville metro area, and the broader Louisville area, which includes portions of Indiana, had the eighth-highest gonorrhea rate among all major U.S. metro areas.
Kentucky counties by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10
Primary and secondary syphilis
More than 8 in 10 cases of primary and secondary syphilis infections occurred in the Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington metro areas.
Kentucky counties by primary and secondary syphilis infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
Kentucky generally ranks among the states with the lowest prevalence of several common sexually transmitted diseases. But as the increasing rates here in the commonwealth illustrate, the fight against STDs continues. A key to bringing down STD rates is for all sexually active people to get tested for the infections they’re at greatest risk of contracting. Most of the STDs discussed here are easily cured, and even the ones that aren’t often can be effectively managed. Ensuring you’re not passing infections along to your sexual partners means knowing your status.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHHSTP AtlasPlus. (Undated). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/atlas/index.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV Surveillance Report, Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-report-2017-vol-29.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/SRtables.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV-Associated Cancer Rates by State, 2011-2015. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/state/index.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis – United States, 2016. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2016surveillance/index.htm
Note: Some states have published more recent data for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis. For states in which that’s the case, we have substituted the individual state data for 2018 and used that in our rankings, while other states’ rankings are based on 2017 numbers. In some cases, we assume that when the full national dataset is published by the CDC, states’ positions relative to other states will change some, though those changes are unlikely to be dramatic, since the CDC data comes from the states.