Some Reasons Behind Philly’s STI Problem

How did the City of Brotherly Love (no puns intended) rank in the top four most concentrated STI areas in the country?

Via Shutterstock

Via Shutterstock

The headlines have been screaming: Philly has a STD/STI problem (more on the difference between both abbreviations later). But why?

The chatter has always been present amongst the community, but headlines from The Advocate and our own Citified blog have brought the discussion to the forefront. The catalyst? A “app” that essentially lets users see “how bad the STDs”are  in a given city. Montgomery, Alabama is the top city, which isn’t a surprise: At a conference I attended earlier in the spring, I sat through a sobering presentation on maternal mortality rates, and tales of the lack of health care access in several Southern states were deeply disturbing.

But Philly is a major metropolitan area. How did the City of Brotherly Love (no puns intended) rank in the top four most concentrated STI areas in the country?

Our own Patrick Kerkstra’s observations make quite a bit a sense:

“Well, STD prevalence is strongly correlated with high poverty levels and STD-exposure risks are considerably higher in minority communities. According to the CDC, Latinos are four times as likely as Whites to be infected with syphilis, for instance, while African Americans are eight times as likely. Philadelphia of course has one of the higher poverty rates of any big U.S. city, and it’s majority-minority city.”

Friend of G Philly, sexuality educator Dr. Timaree Schmit, agrees.

“We…have to talk about how we’re a city that has a big discrepancy in health access for the wealthy and the working class,” she told me. “We’re one of those places where the super rich are geographically really close to the poor, and poverty, lack of education and health resources is the biggest factor in our STI rate.”

The other major issue? A lack of sexuality education, especially at younger ages, which leads to a lack of testing.

“Kids get very different educations from school to school, if any at all, and often way too late to be useful,” Schmit said.

Schmit also noted that “one of the biggest factors is actually whether or not people get tested. there are lots of folks who have STIs who don’t know it or just haven’t gone to a doctor to have themselves counted in the health stats.”

(A quick point of clarification: You may have noticed the abbreviations “STD” and “STI” in this post. What’s the difference? STD refers to Sexually Transmitted Diseases, where STI refers to Sexually Transmitted Infections, and health care professionals prefer the use of STI. Why? According to the University of Maryland Health Center, “The term STI is broader and more encompassing because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms. If the infection results in altering the typical function of the body, it is then called a disease. So that’s why you may hear people say STIs – it’s technically more accurate and also reminds people that there are often no symptoms so it’s important to get tested.”)