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
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Rhode Island
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
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
- 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, 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, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/SRtables.pdf
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.