The state of Virginia routinely ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to prevalence of common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and while the state has made progress in combating some diseases, rates of several common STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, have risen here in Virginia over the past few years. This matches a broader national trend that’s seen prevalence of all three STDs rise for four consecutive years.

Which STDs are most frequent in the commonwealth, how have rates changed over time, and how to various geographic areas in the commonwealth vary when it comes to STD rates? We’ll examine federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health statistics.

Chlamydia Rates in Virginia

More than 42,000 people were diagnosed with chlamydia in Virginia in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. While that’s a number large enough to place the commonwealth 11th of all states, an adjustment for population size drops Virginia into the bottom half of the states with an adjusted rate about 7% lower than the rate for the entire country.

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
Virginia 488.3
Massachusetts 430.4
Minnesota 426.4
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 rates in Virginia have risen steadily since 2013 and have surged nearly 50% over the past decade.

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

2007 329.8
2008 391
2009 395.9
2010 393
2011 431.5
2012 422.9
2013 409.6
2014 423.3
2015 433.9
2016 460.8
2017 488.3

Six of the 10 states with the highest chlamydia rates are in the South, but Virginia’s rate puts the commonwealth near the bottom of its regional neighbors.

Chlamydia infection rate, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)

Louisiana 742.4
Mississippi 707.6
South Carolina 649.8
Georgia 623.7
Alabama 615.5
North Carolina 612.2
Arkansas 579.6
Delaware 566.3
Maryland 555.4
Oklahoma 554.4
Texas 543.9
Tennessee 527.5
Virginia 488.3
Florida 485.2
Kentucky 435.4
West Virginia 226.1

 Gonorrhea Rates in Virginia

Virginia ranks in the bottom half of the nation in the population-adjusted rate of new gonorrhea infections, but the state has seen a recent resurgence in this common STD.

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
Virginia 143.3
New Jersey 105.5
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

The rate of gonorrhea in Virginia has gone up every year since 2011 and has risen more than 62% over the past decade.

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

2007 88.4
2008 129.3
2009 99.1
2010 89.3
2011 81.4
2012 82.8
2013 86
2014 97.6
2015 103.1
2016 128.8
2017 143.3

The South is home to eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of gonorrhea in the country, but Virginia has the second-lowest gonorrhea rate of any Southern state.

Gonorrhea infection rate, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)

Mississippi 309.8
Louisiana 256.7
South Carolina 254.4
Alabama 245.7
Oklahoma 231.4
Arkansas 224.5
North Carolina 220.9
Georgia 217.5
Delaware 187.4
Tennessee 186.8
Maryland 182.5
Texas 170.2
Kentucky 167.2
Florida 153.7
Virginia 143.3
West Virginia 70.8

Syphilis Rates in Virginia

Virginia’s rate of infections of primary or secondary syphilis is about 36% lower than the national level, putting the state in the bottom half of syphilis prevalence.

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
Total 9.5
Lowest
Virginia 6
New Jersey 5.6
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

Rates of primary and secondary syphilis have risen for the past few years in Virginia and have very nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

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

2007 3
2008 3.7
2009 3.8
2010 3.2
2011 2.7
2012 3.6
2013 3.9
2014 4
2015 3.5
2016 4.6
2017 5.3

Half of the states with the 10 highest rates of primary and secondary syphilis infections are in the South, but Virginia is tied with Delaware for the third-lowest rate in the region.

Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Southern states (cases per 100,000 people)

Georgia 14.5
Louisiana 14.5
Florida 11.6
North Carolina 10.6
Mississippi 10.4
Maryland 9.5
Oklahoma 9.5
Alabama 8.7
Texas 8
Arkansas 7.8
Tennessee 7.3
South Carolina 7.3
Virginia 6
Delaware 6
Kentucky 5.9
West Virginia 3.4

HIV & Other STD Rates in Virginia

HIV

Nearly 1,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Virginia in 2017 for a population adjusted rate of 10.3 per 100,000 people, below the national infection rate of 11.8. The commonwealth recorded a slight decline of about 5% in the HIV infection rate between 2016 and 2017. See How to Test for HIV

Hepatitis B & C

Both hepatitis B and hepatitis C are less common in Virginia than nationally, and the commonwealth has recorded declines in the rate of acute hep B and acute hep C infections in recent years. Virginia’s acute hep B rate is about 30% lower than the national rate and has fallen by about the same amount since 2012. For cases of acute hep C, Virginia’s rate is half that of the nation overall and has fallen by more than 40% since 2012. See How to Test for Hepatitis

HPV

Human papillomavirus, in addition to being the most common STD worldwide, also is the most common cause of cancer in several parts of the body, including the cervix, penis, anus and vulva, among others. Because the STD is so prevalent and so rarely exhibits symptoms, exact estimates of how prevalent it is at any given time are difficult to come by, but the CDC does report data on HPV-related cancers, and Virginia has among the lowest rates of those types of cancer in the nation (10.9 per 100,000 in Virginia vs. 11.7 per 100,000 nationally). See How to Test for HPV

STDs in Virginia Cities & Counties

While Virginia as a whole ranks among the best states nationally for its population-adjusted rates of several common STDs, there are huge geographical variations in the prevalence of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis.

Chlamydia

Eastern Virginia accounted for about a third of all chlamydia cases in 2017, though not all the locales with the highest rates are in that region of the commonwealth.

Virginia cities and counties by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10

Petersburg 1,395.30
Richmond City 1,274.70
Radford 1,274.20
Franklin City 1,259.80
Portsmouth 1,216.00
Norfolk 1,172.00
Hopewell 1,105.20
Nottoway County 1,101.50
Newport News 1,098.70
Roanoke City 1,083.80

Gonorrhea

More than 2 in 3 gonorrhea cases in Virginia took place in the central or eastern region of the commonwealth.

Virginia cities and counties by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10

Petersburg 721.3
Richmond City 544.9
Roanoke City 510.8
Danville 508.1
Portsmouth 501.2
Hopewell 455.3
Newport News 454.9
Norfolk 441.4
Hampton 426.2
Martinsville 426.1

Primary and secondary syphilis

More than 86% of syphilis cases in Virginia occurred in the central, northern and northeastern parts of the state in 2017.

Virginia cities and counties by syphilis infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)*

Petersburg 97.6
Danville 72.9
Richmond City 43.6
Norfolk 40
Prince George Co. 39.7
Emporia 37.9
Hampton 37.1
Sussex Co. 35.2
Colonial Heights 28
Arlington 26.4

 * Data from Virginia varies slightly from national data because Virginia includes early latent syphilis

Conclusion

Virginia ranks near the middle or bottom in most measures of how frequent sexually transmitted disease are nationally. But as the increases in almost all STD rates have shown, including her in Virginia, now is not the time for complacency. Individuals can help push down the rates of STDs in Virginia by engaging in responsible practices, including getting themselves tested for a range of 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.