Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates High in Mississippi, Despite Declines | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates High in Mississippi, Despite Declines

Mississippi has the fifth highest rate of chlamydia in the country, with more than 17,000 cases reported in 2015. Photo courtesy Women's Foundation

Mississippi has the fifth highest rate of chlamydia in the country, with more than 17,000 cases reported in 2015. Photo courtesy Women's Foundation

— Despite declines in recent years, Mississippi still has some of the highest STI rates in the country, data from the Centers for Disease Control show.

Mississippi has the third highest rate for gonorrhea, fifth highest rate for chlamydia and 12th highest for syphilis. More than 17,000 Mississippians reported having chlamydia in 2015, down from more than 21,000 in 2011. The state's syphilis rates, however, have almost tripled in the last three years, and the Mississippi Department of Health website shows that rates are rising quickest in young African American men.

Not all STIs are curable, but the ones that are treatable, like syphilis and chlamydia, are easier to treat when detected early. Testing for STIs is available statewide at county health departments as well as several other independent organizations.

Factnotfiction.com, an online resource for sex education and STI prevention that the Women's Foundation of Mississippi runs, has a "Clinic Finder" tool, which allows Mississippians to search for all available locations to go get tested for STIs in the state.

The Women's Foundation also funds eight programs statewide with grants that address pregnancy prevention, and STI counseling and education. Communications Director Lisa Jordan said her organization uses health department data to geo-target advertising for the Fact Not Fiction site to teens in areas with the highest rates of STIs in the state. The site uses evidence-based and medically accurate data, a foundation press release says, to bust myths about common misconceptions about safe sex and STIs. April is Sexually Transmitted Infections Awareness Month.

Factnotfiction.com also has "Ask The Expert" section, where anyone can submit an anonymous question about sexual health. Jordan said the Women's Foundation collects those questions and gets nurses from the University of Mississippi Medical Center to answer.

"We see it as using the best digital tools we can to reach the students where they are," Jordan told the Jackson Free Press. "We're not being judgmental or using shame. We are going to them where they are and giving them information that they need that feels like entertainment."

Sex education in the state's public schools must be abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculums. Abstinence-only curriculums must teach "that abstinence from sexual activity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and related health problems," state law says. Abstinence-only curriculums cannot "include any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied."

Abstinence-plus education "may discuss other contraceptives, the nature, causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases, or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, along with a factual presentation of the risks and failure rates."

State law also mandates that boys and girls must be separated "according to gender into different classrooms" during sex-related education courses.

African Americans in the state have higher rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, Mississippi Department of Health data from 2015 show.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com and follow her on Twitter at @arielle_amara.

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