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

Highest
Alaska 799.8
Louisiana 742.4
Mississippi 708.7
South Carolina 649.8
New Mexico 645
Georgia 623.7
Alabama 615.5
North Carolina 612.2
New York 591.6
Illinois 589.9
Total 528.8
Lowest
Kentucky 435.4
North Dakota 432.5
Massachusetts 425.7
New Jersey 392
Idaho 368.4
Wyoming 365.8
Maine 342.1
New Hampshire 330.5
Utah 323.7
Vermont 297.5
West Virginia 226.1

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)

2012 394.3
2013 389.8
2014 400.2
2015 394.2
2016 413.2
2017 435.4

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)

Louisiana 742.4
Mississippi 708.7
South Carolina 649.8
Georgia 623.7
Alabama 615.5
North Carolina 612.2
Maryland 586.3
Arkansas 576.7
Delaware 566.3
Oklahoma 554.4
Texas 543.9
Tennessee 522.5
Virginia 488.3
Florida 485.2
Kentucky 435.4
West Virginia 226.1

 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

Mississippi 310
Alaska 295.1
Louisiana 256.7
South Carolina 254.4
Alabama 245.7
Oklahoma 231.4
Arkansas 223.5
North Carolina 220.9
Georgia 217.5
Ohio 216.3
Missouri 214.8
New Mexico 214
California 192
Delaware 187.4
Illinois 186.4
Tennessee 185
Nevada 184.9
Arizona 180.5
Indiana 177.5
New York 172.7
Maryland 170.3
Texas 170.2
Kentucky 167.2
Kansas 156.3
Michigan 154.7
Total 171.9

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)

2012 97.8
2013 98.2
2014 98.6
2015 105.7
2016 131.3
2017 167.2

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)

Mississippi 310
Louisiana 256.7
South Carolina 254.4
Alabama 245.7
Oklahoma 231.4
Arkansas 223.5
North Carolina 220.9
Georgia 217.5
Delaware 187.4
Tennessee 185
Maryland 170.3
Texas 170.2
Kentucky 167.2
Florida 153.7
Virginia 143.3
West Virginia 70.8

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

Highest
Nevada 19.7
California 17.1
Georgia 14.5
Louisiana 14.5
Arizona 13.1
Maryland 12.2
New York 11.9
Florida 11.6
North Carolina 10.6
Mississippi 10
Total 9.5
Lowest
Kentucky 5.9
South Dakota 3.8
Utah 3.7
West Virginia 3.4
New Hampshire 3.2
Connecticut 3.1
Wisconsin 3
Iowa 2.7
Nebraska 2.3
Vermont 2.1
Wyoming 0.7

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)

2012 3.4
2013 2.8
2014 3.6
2015 3.3
2016 4.9
2017 5.9

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)

Georgia 14.5
Louisiana 14.5
Maryland 12.2
Florida 11.6
North Carolina 10.6
Mississippi 10
Oklahoma 9.5
Alabama 8.7
Texas 8
Arkansas 7.8
Tennessee 7.3
South Carolina 7.3
Virginia 6
Delaware 6
Kentucky 5.9
West Virginia 3.4

HIV & Other STD Rates in Kentucky

HIV

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.

HPV

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.

Chlamydia

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

Union 1,023.30
Fayette 699.5
Jefferson 683.7
Fulton 673.3
McCracken 539.9
Hardin 535.5
Shelby 534.7
Franklin 532
Daviess 494.7
Kenton 485.4

Gonorrhea

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

Jefferson 320.4
Fayette 268.4
Fulton 240.5
McCracken 219.9
Christian 212.8
Bourbon 188.9
Franklin 184.6
Shelby 168.7
Union 166.1
Kenton 154.5

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)

Nicholas 28
Jefferson 15.3
Wolfe 13.8
Grant 12.1
Fayette 11.1
Shelby 11
Scott 7.6
Lewis 7.3
Campbell 6.5
Oldham 6.2

Conclusion

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.

Additional References

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.