State governments routinely compete with each other for top rankings in everything from education and economic development to taxes and transportation. These days Georgia is a national leader in at least one category it would just as soon forget: sexually transmitted diseases.
Based on data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia has some of the worst STD rates in the country. For 2011, Georgia ranked 4th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for syphilis, 7th or gonorrhea and 8th for Chlamydia.
The question is: Why? Explanations for elevated rates vary, but some public health officials say that fear of talking openly about sex plays a role in keeping rates high, especially when it comes to teens and young adults who account for the majority of new STD cases in Georgia.
“Public health programs to prevent STDs have always been kept on the back-burner,” said Brenda Mims, the infectious disease coordinator for the Valdosta-based South Health District. “It’s just not something that anybody wants to talk about, so we don’t have the support for additional funding or a more balanced budget in those programs.”
People diagnosed with STDs are not always honest about the number of sexual partners they have had leading up to the infection, she said.
Because of the taboo nature of the subject, the state often puts STDs last on the priority list, said Jennifer Parker, women’s health coordinator for the Gainesville-based North Public Health District.