Jackson, Mississippi, currently ranks second in sexually transmitted disease rates across the country, according to a new report. Innerbody’s sixth annual analysis of CDC data on STDs found that 1,358 of every 100,000 residents have been diagnosed with an STD. Currently in 2023, 105 HIV cases have been reported in the city alone.
Jackson has one of the highest STD rates in the country, report shows
Dr. Ben Brock is an infectious disease clinician and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He says while the public may consider risk behaviors to be the problem, the high rate of STDs in the state is a “health equity” issue.
“When you look at heat maps for the country for sexually transmitted infections of, you know, various types, the maps look almost identical to all sorts of other health outcomes like strokes, obesity, infant mortality,” Brock said. “There has to be something different about the environment in the U.S. Southeast that accounts for these differences and all these health outcomes, not just sexually transmitted infections.”
A lack of prevention
Mississippi is listed as having the highest STD rate of any state in the country. While health centers are closing across Mississippi, Brock says primary care and preventive resources in the state are lacking.
“Patients who need routine screening for sexually transmitted infections or, you know, diabetes or whatever, don't have ready access to those resources unless you are in a more densely populated area.” he said. “People who live in more rural areas would have to travel farther for those services and might not have access to coverage to get screening performed.”
Advocates say the state also has an education gap around how STDs spread. Many schools in the state only offer abstinence-centric or “abstinence plus” sex education. Valencia Robinson, the executive director of Mississippi in Action, an advocacy group that focuses on reproductive health in the state, says the risks of STDs are hard to communicate when you can’t go too into detail about sex in the first place.
“Because we’re in Mississippi, we're supposed to go to school, go to church and not even talk about sex.” she said. “We do have to educate our communities in a way that these kids are able to get the information… the accurate, correct and age-appropriate information.”
Looking for solutions
While Brock agrees that appropriate education on sex is lacking in the state, he says there is no single solution that will “move the needle” on STD rates.
“We already mentioned health care access, and that includes both access to physical locations to go for screening, but also health care coverage to be able to access those services,” he says. ”Beefing up access to public health as well, either through state or federal intervention… But certainly education is a component of addressing sexually transmitted infections.”
Brock also emphasized that while “safe sex” may seem like an easy solution, that won’t eradicate the problem.
“People are going to have sex.” he says. “Consistent condom use is one strategy to address STDs, but by itself is not going to be enough. “Hopefully down the road, we'll have more what they call biomedical interventions such as treatments for prevention or hopefully someday a vaccine.”
Innerbody says that there are 48,183 active STD cases in the state as of this year. The U.S. city with the highest number of STD cases is located just across the border — the data show that Memphis, Tennessee, has 1,460 cases for every 100,000 residents.