In Rhode Island and across the rest of the United States, the rates of several common sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. In fact, the U.S. has seen four straight years of increases in the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis, according to data reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Which STDs are most common here in Rhode Island, how does our state compare to others in the region and across the nation, what’s the shape of change over time, and which locales in Rhode Island have the highest concentrations of certain sexually transmitted diseases? To answer all those questions, we’ll delve into years’ worth of data reported by the CDC.

Chlamydia Rates in Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s population-adjusted rate of chlamydia infections is 500 per 100,000 people, which places the state at No. 25 among the 50 states. Rhode Island’s rate is about 5% lower than the overall U.S. rate but is nearly double that of the state with the lowest rate, West Virginia, where chlamydia infections occur at a rate of 226.1 per 100,000 people.

Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people, top 25

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
Maryland 586.3
Arkansas 576.7
Arizona 571.8
Delaware 566.3
California 557.4
Oklahoma 554.4
Nevada 544.7
Texas 543.9
Missouri 536.4
Ohio 528.6
Tennessee 522.5
Indiana 514.2
South Dakota 512.7
Michigan 511.9
Rhode Island 500
Total 528.8

The chlamydia rate in Rhode Island has risen steadily over the past half-decade and now stands at nearly 22% higher than the rate posted in 2012.

Rhode Island chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)

2012 410.6
2013 410.1
2014 412.2
2015 433.1
2016 467.3
2017 500

Only one Northeastern state, New York, ranks among the 10 states with the highest chlamydia rates, and Rhode Island has the region’s second-highest rate. Among the 10 states with the lowest chlamydia rates, half are in this region.

Chlamydia infection rate, Northeastern region 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 Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s population-adjusted rate of gonorrhea infections ranks the state at No. 41 overall, just inside the bottom 10. The state’s rate is about one-third as high as the leading state, Mississippi, and is about 40% lower than the overall U.S. rate.

Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people

Highest
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
Total 171.9
Lowest
Rhode Island 102.9
Hawaii 95.1
Utah 81.2
Montana 75
West Virginia 70.8
Wyoming 70.4
Idaho 58.6
Maine 46.6
New Hampshire 38.4
Vermont 32.5

Though Rhode Island is among the 10 states with the lowest gonorrhea rates, the disease has become much more prevalent in our state over the past half-decade. Between 2012 and 2017, the gonorrhea rate in Rhode Island climbed by more than 110%.

Rhode Island gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)

2012 48.3
2013 43.2
2014 55.9
2015 54.9
2016 67.8
2017 102.9

No Northeastern state ranks among the 20 states with the highest rates, and only New York has a rate that is higher than the overall U.S. rate. While Rhode Island ranks in the bottom half of the region the state’s rate is more than three times higher than that of Vermont, which has both the lowest rate in the region and the lowest rate in the nation.

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 Rhode Island

Coming in just within the states with the 25 highest syphilis rates, Rhode Island’s population-adjusted syphilis rate of 6.7 per 100,000 is more than 25% lower than the overall national rate and is nearly three times lower than the rate posted by Nevada, which leads the nation. Still Rhode Island’s rate is many times higher than the rate recorded by Wyoming, 0.7 per 100,000, the lowest in the U.S.

Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people, top 25

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
Illinois 9.6
Oklahoma 9.5
New Mexico 9.2
Washington 9.2
Alabama 8.7
Oregon 8.6
Missouri 8.3
Texas 8
Massachusetts 7.9
Arkansas 7.8
Alaska 7.6
Tennessee 7.3
South Carolina 7.3
Rhode Island 6.7
Hawaii 6.6
Total 9.5

Rhode Island did manage to post a decline in the syphilis rate between 2016 and 2017, but since 2012, the rate has gone up by well over 50%.

Rhode Island primary and secondary syphilis rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)

2012 4.2
2013 4.3
2014 6.7
2015 7.3
2016 8.5
2017 6.7

Two Northeastern states, New York and Massachusetts, have rates within the top 20 nationally, and Rhode Island comes in third in the region behind those two states.

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 Rhode Island

HIV

Rhode Island ranks No. 28 for the population-adjusted rate of HIV diagnoses. In 2017, more than 80 people were newly diagnosed with HIV here in Rhode Island, a rate of 7.8 per 100,000. While the state isn’t yet in the top half of the country for HIV cases, Rhode Island did see a 20% increase in HIV prevalence from the 2016 rate. See How to Test for HIV

Hepatitis B & C

Rhode Island has not reported its rates for acute infections of hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Nationally, both viral infections occur at a rate of about 1 per 100,000 people, while hep C rates have climbed steadily since 2012 but hep B rates have fallen in that time. See How to Test for Hepatitis

HPV

Rhode Island has higher-than-median rates of HPV-caused cancer cases. In Rhode Island, such cancers occur at a rate of 12 per 100,000, while they happen nationally at a median rate of 11.7 per 100,000. Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes the vast majority of cases of several types of cancer, most famously cervical cancer. As the world’s most common STD, the virus is usually not harmful, but examining HPV-caused cancer can help provide a window into how serious untreated HPV is in a state. See How to Test for HPV

STDs in Rhode Island Cities & Counties

While Rhode Island has STD rates that tend to be lower than overall national rates, some areas of the state have much higher rates.

Chlamydia

Providence County had by far the highest chlamydia rates in the state, accounting for nearly 3 in 4 cases.

Rhode Island counties by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)

Providence 572.6
Washington 388.1
Newport 309.4
Kent 270
Bristol 185.4

Gonorrhea

The Providence-Warwick, RI-MA metro area, which includes all five counties in Rhode Island, has seen the third-highest increase in the gonorrhea rate among the largest U.S. metro areas. Since 2013, Providence-Warwick has seen a 161% increase in the gonorrhea rate.

Rhode Island counties by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)

Providence 10.9
Kent 7.3
Newport 4.9
Bristol 4.1
Washington 2.4

Primary and secondary syphilis

Providence County accounted for about 3 in 4 syphilis cases diagnosed in the state in 2017.

Rhode Island counties by primary and secondary syphilis infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)

Providence 92.7
Newport 41.3
Kent 30.9
Bristol 30.6
Washington 15.8

Conclusion

Rhode Island’s position when it comes to how common sexually transmitted diseases are here is generally that the state ranks toward the middle of the country, which means some states have it worse, while a few others have it much better. But, as the trends happening here and nationwide show, there’s no room for complacency. For those who may be concerned about their STD status, it’s easy to get tested and find out for sure. Most people who do have STDs don’t know it, which increases the risk of them continuing the spread of the disease, which is why testing is a crucial part of bringing STD rates down in Rhode Island and across the U.S.

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.