St. Louis Leads the Nation in STD Transmission


  • Photo by robertelyov / Flickr
For those St. Louis residents who are tired of our city only snagging the number one spot when it comes to crime rates, there’s another area where we’re at the top of the list — sexually transmitted diseases.

According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), St. Louis is the 2015 STD capital of the nation for both chlamydia and gonorrhea, with about 15,000 and 5,250 cases respectively. Those numbers are both up from 2014.

David Eisenberg, the medical director of Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, says his organization deals with this problem every day, even though it rarely gets political or media attention.

“This needs to be part of the everyday conversation on the health of St. Louisans and Missourians,” Eisenberg says.

Planned Parenthood conducts about 60,000 STD tests per year in the region. Eisenberg says that abstinence-only education is one of the main reasons people fail to use protection.

“A lot of people out there just don’t know the truth about condoms as the best way to protect against sexually transmitted infections,” Eisenberg says.

Enbal Shacham, a professor of behavioral science and health education at St. Louis University, published a study in April studying the relationship between condom availability and STD transmission in St. Louis.

“What we found were that there were patterns in types of vendors in different parts of the city,” Shacham says.

She found that areas of north and central St. Louis are “condom deserts," in which the typical places to purchase condoms — gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies — are much less likely to carry them. In businesses where condoms were found, they tended to be more expensive and sold over the counter. These areas were also the ones facing the highest rates of STDs — HIV in central St. Louis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in the north.

Shacham says people are more likely to use condoms when they see them being sold openly in their neighborhoods and purchased by people like them.

“Businesses aren’t equally distributed, and neither are condoms,” she says.

Shacham suggested that St. Louis could begin to overcome its STD problem with more free condom distribution, better testing and treatment programs and comprehensive sexual education.

Another possibility, she says, is an STL equivalent of the NYC Condom, New York City’s attempt to make free condoms cool using the trendy imagery of the city.

Eisenberg, though, has a more more prosaic suggestion to fight STDs than graphic design.

“Missouri could expand Medicaid and make sure that people have access to the health care that they need,” he says.

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