When it comes to the prevalence of several different sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Washington ranks among the states with the lowest rates. While this isn’t true of all sexually transmitted diseases and infections, the state mostly has had success in controlling rates of STDs. But that’s changing. In fact, rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV all are on the rise, which reflects a trend that’s seen rates of most of those STDs rise for the past four years across the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Which sexually transmitted diseases and infections are most common here in Washington, how have their rates changed over time, and which locales in Washington have the highest concentrations of infected individuals? To understand the picture of STDs in Washington, we’ll examine data from the CDC as well as the Washington State Department of Health.
Chlamydia Rates in Washington
Washington ranks 36th out of all 50 states with a population-adjusted chlamydia rate more than 15% lower than the overall U.S. rate.
Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people, bottom 20
Washington’s position as one of the states with the lowest rates of chlamydia could be in danger, though, as the state has seen the rate rise every year since 2012. Between 2012 and 2017, the state’s chlamydia rate has gone up by nearly 25%.
Washington chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Two Western states rank in the top five nationally, and Washington is in the bottom half of the region with a rate barely lower than that of neighboring Oregon.
Chlamydia infection rate, Western region states (cases per 100,000 people)
Gonorrhea Rates in Washington
Washington ranks No. 33 in the country when it comes to the prevalence of gonorrhea, and the state’s rate is more than 20% lower than the overall U.S. rate.
Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people, bottom 20
Washington has seen the gonorrhea rate surge in recent years, nearly tripling between 2012 and 2017.
Washington gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Alaska is the only Western state that ranks among the top 10 for gonorrhea, and Washington sits in the middle of the region.
Gonorrhea infection rate, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
Syphilis Rates in Washington
Washington ranks 14th among all the states when it comes to infections of primary and secondary syphilis, the two earliest but most infectious stages of syphilis, which can be fatal if it goes untreated. Washington’s syphilis rate is just under the overall U.S. rate.
Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people
Washington is poised to move up the state rankings based on the movement of the syphilis rate here in the state. The syphilis rate has increased more than 115% in Washington since 2012.
Washington 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 Washington ranks in the top half of the region.
Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Westerm states (cases per 100,000 people)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Washington
More than 400 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Washington in 2017. The state’s population-adjusted rate ranks Washington 31st of the 50 states, and Washington saw the HIV rate rise between 2016 and 2017, though the increase was a modest 2%. See How to Test for HIV
Hepatitis B & C
Acute infections of both hepatitis B and hepatitis C occur at lower rates in Washington than nationally, though both hepatitis virus types are becoming more common here in our state. Washington’s population-adjusted hep B infection rate is about 40% lower than the U.S. rate, but the rate increased by 20% between 2015 and 2016. Acute hep C cases are about 10% less common in Washington than the nation overall, but the rate climbed by more than 12% between 2016 and 2017. See How to Test for Hepatitis
Washington just barely ranks among the bottom half of the states when it comes to the prevalence of cancers related to human papillomavirus, or HPV. Pinpointing exactly how many people have HPV at any given time is impossible due to how incredibly common the virus is. In fact, most sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives. But examining the frequency with which cancers caused by HPV are diagnosed can help us understand how common untreated HPV is since HPV causes a huge majority of several types of cancer, including cervical, penile and anal cancers. HPV-related cancers occur in Washington at a rate of 11.6 per 100,000, just under the national median of 11.7 per 100,000. See How to Test for HPV
STDs in Washington Cities & Counties
While Washington mostly ranks among the states with the lowest rates of STDs (with the exception of syphilis), certain areas in the state have far higher infection rates than others.
More than 1 in 2 chlamydia cases in Washington in 2017 were diagnosed in people living in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, which had the 10th highest increase of chlamydia between 2013 and 2017.
Washington counties by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10
More than two-thirds of gonorrhea infections in the state occurred in the Seattle-Tacoma area, which had the eighth-highest increase between 2013 and 2017 among all major U.S. metro areas.
Washington counties by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people), top 10
Primary and secondary syphilis
Just under two-thirds of all syphilis infections in the state in 2017 were in individuals living in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, which had the nation’s 15th-highest increase of the disease among all major metros.
Washington counties by primary and secondary syphilis infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
The state of Washington has rates of sexually transmitted disease and infections that are relatively low, which is good news. But, like the nation overall, Washington has seen rates of most STDs rise in recent years, including huge surges of certain infections. The truth is that almost all sexually active people will contract at least one STD at some point in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, it’s also true that the majority of people who are carrying an STD do not know they are infected. One of the best ways to make progress against the rising tide of STDs is to get tested for the infections you’re at the highest risk of having so that you can be sure you’re not passing infections along to your sexual partners.
- Washington State Department of Health, Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). (Undated). Retrieved from https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/SexuallyTransmittedDisease
- 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
- 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.