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

Highest
Alaska 799.8
Louisiana 742.4
Mississippi 707.6
New Mexico 651.6
South Carolina 649.8
Georgia 623.7
Alabama 615.5
North Carolina 612.2
New York 591.6
Total 528.8
Lowest
Minnesota 426.4
Massachusetts 425.7
New Jersey 392
Idaho 368.4
Wyoming 365.8
Maine 342.1
Utah 332.2
New Hampshire 330.5
Vermont 297.5
West Virginia 226.1

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)

1999 137.7
2000 155.2
2001 155.5
2002 167
2003 171.2
2004 203.4
2005 223
2006 235.7
2007 254.9
2008 266.7
2009 285.2
2010 322.8
2011 345.7
2012 359.3
2013 354.5
2014 357.1
2015 352
2016 387.3
2017 425.7

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)

New York 591.6
Rhode Island 500
Connecticut 496.3
Pennsylvania 441.5
Massachusetts 425.7
New Jersey 392
Maine 342.1
New Hampshire 330.5
Vermont 297.5

 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

Highest
Mississippi 309.8
Alaska 295.1
Louisiana 256.7
South Carolina 254.4
Alabama 245.7
Oklahoma 231.4
Arkansas 224.5
North Carolina 220.9
Georgia 217.5
Total 171.9
Lowest
Massachusetts 106.5
Rhode Island 102.9
Hawaii 95.1
Utah 83.3
Montana 75
West Virginia 70.8
Wyoming 70.4
Idaho 58.6
Maine 46.6
New Hampshire 38.4
Vermont 32.5

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)

1999 38.2
2000 43.2
2001 48.7
2002 49
2003 43.7
2004 47.1
2005 39.4
2006 37.5
2007 42
2008 31.8
2009 29.1
2010 38
2011 35.5
2012 40
2013 47
2014 54.1
2015 52.8
2016 67.6
2017 106.5

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)

New York 172.7
Pennsylvania 119.2
Connecticut 109.4
Massachusetts 106.5
New Jersey 105.5
Rhode Island 102.9
Maine 46.6
New Hampshire 38.4
Vermont 32.5

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

Highest
Nevada 20
California 17.1
Louisiana 14.5
Georgia 14.5
Arizona 13.6
New York 11.9
Florida 11.6
North Carolina 10.6
Mississippi 10.4
Massachusetts 7.9
Total 9.5
Lowest
South Dakota 3.8
West Virginia 3.4
New Hampshire 3.2
Iowa 3.2
Connecticut 3.1
Wisconsin 3
Nebraska 2.3
Vermont 2.1
Alaska 1.8
Wyoming 0.7

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)

1999 1.6
2000 2.2
2001 1.6
2002 3.2
2003 4
2004 3.2
2005 3.6
2006 3.4
2007 4.1
2008 5.6
2009 5.8
2010 7.1
2011 7.6
2012 8.4
2013 3.8
2014 4.9
2015 4.8
2016 6.2
2017 7.9

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)

New York 11.9
Massachusetts 7.9
Rhode Island 6.7
Pennsylvania 6.2
New Jersey 5.6
Maine 4.9
New Hampshire 3.2
Connecticut 3.1
Vermont 2.1

HIV & Other STD Rates in Massachusetts

HIV

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.

HPV

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

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 1,631.50
Lawrence 1,200.60
Brockton 922.10
Boston 860.30
Springfield 827.10

Gonorrhea

Provincetown has by far the highest rate of gonorrhea in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts cities by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 5

Provincetown 1,257.70
Brockton 235.6
Boston 212.4
Springfield 173.8
New Bedford 155.7

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)

>10 6-10 <5
Barnstable Bristol Berkshire
Suffolk Norfolk
Essex Plymouth
Middlesex Franklin
Worcester
Hampshire
Hamden

Conclusion

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.

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.