The state of sexual health in Utah is a mixed bag. On one hand, the state ranks among those with the lowest rates of several major sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. But on the other hand, the state has seen increases — some huge — in most STDs, which largely tracks with a trend that’s happening nationally. The U.S. has seen rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis climb for the past four straight years.
Which sexually transmitted infections and diseases are most common here in the state of Utah, how has the prevalence of certain STDs changed over the past decade, and which areas of the state are most prone to having high incidence of STDs? To answer those questions, we’ll examine data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Utah Department of Health.
Chlamydia Rates in Utah
Utah’s population-adjusted rate of chlamydia infections is the third-lowest in the U.S., and it’s nearly 40% lower than the overall rate for the entire United States.
Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people
Chlamydia has become more common in our state every year since 2014, though the rate has dropped from the rates recorded a decade ago.
Utah chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Two Western region states are among the 10 states with the highest chlamydia rates, including overall No. 1, Alaska, a state that has a chlamydia rate that’s more than double Utah’s rate.
Chlamydia infection rate, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
Gonorrhea Rates in Utah
More than 2,500 people in Utah were newly diagnosed with gonorrhea in 2017, and the state’s population-adjusted rate places Utah in 43rd position nationally. Utah’s gonorrhea rate is less than half the U.S. rate.
Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people
Gonorrhea has basically exploded in Utah in recent years, with the disease growing every year since 2012. Utah has seen its gonorrhea rate jump more than eight-fold since 2011.
Utah gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Regional gonorrhea leader Alaska also is the state with the highest rate of gonorrhea. Alaska’s rate is about three times higher than that of Utah.
Gonorrhea infection rate, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
Syphilis Rates in Utah
Utah ranks 41st among the 50 states for the population-adjusted rate of primary and secondary syphilis infections, and the state’s rate is only about one-third of the overall U.S. rate.
Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people
The syphilis rate has varied widely in Utah over the past several years, but it’s generally trending upward and stands at the highest point in a decade.
Utah primary and secondary syphilis rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Three of the 10 states with the highest syphilis rates are in the West, and Utah has the third-lowest rate in the region, far behind regional and national leader Nevada, with a rate that’s more than 400% higher than Utah’s syphilis rate.
Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Westerm states (cases per 100,000 people)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Utah
More than 115 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Utah in 2017, placing the state at No. 44 nationally. In addition to being near the bottom when it comes to the prevalence of HIV, Utah also realized a huge decline in HIV between 2016 and 2017, with the population-adjusted rate falling by 18%. See How to Test for HIV
Hepatitis B & C
Utah has a lower rate of acute hepatitis B than the U.S. overall, with the national rate coming in at about four times Utah’s rate. Hep B has fluctuated widely in Utah in recent years, though it’s down about half from a high recorded in 2012. Acute hepatitis C, on the other hand, occurs in Utah at a rate more than double the national rate. Utah’s hep C rate also has climbed steadily, rising by more than 300% since 2012. See How to Test for Hepatitis
Utah’s rate of cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV) is the lowest among all states at 8.1 per 100,000, compared to the national median of 11.7 per 100,000. It’s virtually impossible to know at any given time how many people have HPV because the virus is incredibly common (most sexually active people will get it) and very few people are ever diagnosed. But for those who have a high-risk strain of HPV and don’t get tested, the risk of several types of cancers, including cervical, penile and anal, is elevated, which is why examining the HPV-related cancer rate can help illustrate how widespread untreated HPV is in a given state. See How to Test for HPV
STDs in Utah Cities & Counties
While Utah as a whole is not among the national leaders in many of the STDs we’ve examined, certain parts of the state have far higher rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis.
The Salt Lake City metro area accounted for more than 1 in 2 cases of chlamydia in Utah, and the city had the eighth-largest increase in chlamydia among all major U.S. metro areas between 2013 and 2017.
Utah public health districts by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
|Salt Lake County||466.1|
|San Juan County||390.7|
Nearly one-third of gonorrhea infections in Utah were diagnosed in people living in the Salt Lake City metro area, and gonorrhea has increased by more than 130% over the past few years in Salt Lake City, the fourth-largest increase among any major cities.
Utah public health districts by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
|Salt Lake County||142.2|
|San Juan County||45.6|
Primary and secondary syphilis
Nearly 3 in 4 cases of primary and secondary syphilis in Utah in 2017 were diagnosed among individuals living in the Salt Lake City metro area.
Utah public health districts by primary and secondary syphilis infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
|Salt Lake County||7.6|
|San Juan County||0|
It would be easy to think sexually transmitted diseases are not a major problem in the state of Utah, given Utah’s position near the bottom of most lists of major STDs. But that ignores the major increases seen in several STDs across the state, and the surge of STDs reported in the Salt Lake City metro area. If individuals in Utah don’t take action to combat STDs, the problem will only grow. About half of sexually active people will contract an STD by the time they’re in their early to mid-20s, and most sexually active people will get at least one STD in their lifetimes. So a positive STD status is nothing to be ashamed of, and only once you know your status can you be sure you’re not passing infections along to your sexual partners.
- Utah State Department of Health, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2008-2017. (2018). Retrieved from http://health.utah.gov/epi/data/stdsurveillance/Utah_STD_Surv_Rpt.pdf
- 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, 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, 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.