Rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Rhode Island, a trend the state's department of health is attributing to better testing, as well as higher rates of high-risk sexual behavior.
Rhode Island officials said cases of gonorrhea increased 30%, newly identified HIV cases grew by nearly 33% and infectious syphilis cases were up by an alarming 79% in the state. Men who have sex with men continued to have the fastest-growing rate of testing positive for new cases of HIV/AIDS and syphilis, according to the state, and infection rates continued to have a greater impact on African-Americans, Hispanics and young adults.
The health department blamed the spike in cases on high-risk sexual behaviors that have “become more common in recent years,” including having sex without a condom, having multiple sexual partners and having sex while intoxicated. But it gave an additional reason for the growing number of STD cases that has garnered significant media attention: the use of social media to arrange sexual encounters.
Apps like Tinder, Grindr and Down allow strangers to pair up with people in their area; some use the apps for dating purposes, while others use them for casual sex. Rhode Island health officials say the apps facilitate “casual and often anonymous sexual encounters” that put users at an inherently higher risk for STD infections.
Rhode Island isn't alone—syphilis infection rates rose 10% nationwide from 2012 to 2013, according to the most recent data (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New HIV infections rose 12% between 2008 and 2010 among men who had same-sex partners, according to CDC data.
"These data send a clear signal that despite the progress we have made in reducing STDs and HIV over the years, there is more work to do," said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the Rhode Island Department of Health's director designee. "We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have great partnerships among state agencies, community-based organizations and healthcare providers to continue to educate, test, and treat sexually transmitted diseases. This trend reminds us that we cannot become complacent."