While Massachusetts ranks in the middle or near the bottom when it comes to highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, rates of infection are rising for many of the most common STDs in Massachusetts, and the commonwealth ranks high nationally in how common a couple of these diseases are here. The rising rates seen here in the commonwealth largely mirror national trends, which have seen the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rise every year for the past four years.
How common are STDs here in Massachusetts, how have the rates of them changed here over time, and which areas of the state have the highest concentrations of infections? To understand more about the state of sexual health in Massachusetts, we’ll explore data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences.
Chlamydia Rates in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has the ninth-lowest rate of chlamydia in the country when adjusting for population, and the commonwealth’s rate is about 18% lower than the national level.
Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people
Chlamydia has become about 20% more common in Massachusetts in the past couple of years, and the rate has more than tripled since 1999.
Massachusetts chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
New York has the highest chlamydia rate of any Northeastern state, and Rhode Island is the only other state in the region with a rate among the nation’s 25 highest. Massachusetts’ rate is in the middle of the region.
Chlamydia infection rate, Northeastern states (cases per 100,000 people)
Gonorrhea Rates in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has one of the 15 lowest rates of gonorrhea in the country, but rates have increased dramatically here in recent years. Still, the commonwealth has a gonorrhea rate nearly 40% lower than the national rate of gonorrhea infection.
Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people
Massachusetts has seen its gonorrhea rate go up every year since 2011, and between 2016 and 2017, the gonorrhea rate rose by nearly 60%.
Massachusetts gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
No state in the Northeast ranks in the top 20, and three of the 10 states with the lowest rates are in the Northeastern U.S. Massachusetts ranks among the top half regionally, though.
Gonorrhea infection rate, Northeastern states (cases per 100,000 people)
Syphilis Rates in Massachusetts
While Massachusetts is near the bottom for chlamydia and gonorrhea, the same cannot be said for the state’s rate of primary and secondary syphilis cases. And while Massachusetts’ rate is still below the national level, it does rank in the top half of states.
Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people
Syphilis is gaining ground in Massachusetts, as the rate has risen every year since 2015 and is up nearly 400% from the 20th century low recorded in 2001.
Massachusetts primary and secondary syphilis rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
New York and Massachusetts are the only two Northeastern states that rank among the 20 states with the highest syphilis rates.
Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Northeastern states (cases per 100,000 people)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Massachusetts
More than 600 people were diagnosed with HIV in Massachusetts in 2017, representing a decline of about 5% from the previous year. Massachusetts ranks 20th of all states despite the infection rate (8.8 per 100,000) being lower than the national level of 11.8 per 100,000. See HIV test options.
Hepatitis B & C
Massachusetts has the highest rate among states of acute hepatitis C infections, and the rate has nearly doubled in recent years. Massachusetts’ rate of 6.2 per 100,000 is far higher than the national rate of 1 per 100,000, and since 2014, the rate has gone up by more than 80%. Acute infections of hepatitis B, on the other hand, are less common here than nationally (0.5 per 100,000 in Massachusetts compared to 1 per 100,000 nationally). Additionally, the rate has remained relatively steady for a few years. See hepatitis test options.
Precise data on how many people are diagnosed or currently have HPV, or human papillomavirus, don’t exist on a national level, or even within Massachusetts. But understanding how common HPV-caused cancers are here can help illuminate how big a problem untreated HPV is. That’s because for several types of cancer, including of the cervix, penis, vulva and anus, HPV is the primary cause. Massachusetts has an HPV-caused cancer rate of 11.6 per 100,000, the same as the national median. See HPV test options.
STDs in Massachusetts Cities & Counties
Massachusetts generally has a positive outlook when it comes to sexual health and prevalence of STDs, but zooming into the geography of the commonwealth can reveal a different picture, as many locales in the state have much higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
Chlamydia is most prevalent in Provincetown among all cities in the commonwealth.
Massachusetts cities by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 5
Provincetown has by far the highest rate of gonorrhea in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts cities by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 5
Primary and secondary syphilis
Syphilis infection rates in Suffolk (47.6 per 100,000) and Barnstable (17.1 per 100,000) are highest, but several other counties have relatively high rates.
Massachusetts counties by primary and secondary syphilis infection rate range (cases per 100,000 people)
Overall, Massachusetts is much better off than many other states when it comes to the prevalence of STDs, but given that rates of almost all STDs are on the rise here, there’s no doubt that people still need to be responsible. Individuals can help push down the rates of STDs in Massachusetts by doing things like getting themselves tested for a range of STDs, particularly those who are at higher risk of contracting STDs.
- 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
- Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, STD Data and Reports. (Undated). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/lists/std-data-and-reports#data-from-massachusetts-
- 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.