According to the 2013 County Health Rankings, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the rate of sexually transmitted infections in Tulsa County is more than five times the national benchmark.
The national benchmark represents the 90th percentile for the nation. That means only 10 percent of counties have a better value than the benchmark number.
The STI rate is just one of many statistics included in the report, which you can access here, that shows Tulsa County, while generally on par with the rest of Oklahoma, is lagging behind the nation on multiple health indicators.
The STI indicator is measured by cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people. The report uses chlamydia as the indicator because it is “the most common bacterial STI in North America.”
In Tulsa County, the number is 521 cases, compared with the national benchmark of 92. The state-level statistic is 381 cases.
Janice Sheehan with the Tulsa City-County Health Department says that the high rate could reflect better and more frequent testing for STIs.
“Through our clinic here at the Health Department,” she said, “and also in the medical community, they’re becoming more and more aware of chlamydia rates for sure.”
She says chlamydia is an STI that doesn’t always have “any definite systems.”
Now, per CDC recommendations that came out last year, if a patient is treated for gonorrhea, they are also automatically treated for chlamydia. Sheehan says the hope is that will help lower rates.
But what’s really needed, she says, is more education.
“It’s a matter, I think, of getting the information out to the population,” she said, “that these things are there, that they are very vulnerable, there are things they can do to help protect themselves.”
Annie Norman, with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, says the high rate of infection is likely influenced by the lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education in Oklahoma.
“Given the limited access statewide that our young people have to comprehensive education, it’s sort of to be expected,” Norman said.
“We really need to do more for the young people of our state,” she said, “and arm them with information so they’re available to make the best decision about their personal health.”
Sheehan says rates of STIs are highest among young people and some minority groups.
“Young people often think that they are not vulnerable to things,” Sheehan says.
“Research shows that comprehensive sexuality education information is the best way to influence behaviors,” Norman said.
Oklahoma currently does not require schools to provide sexuality education, though it does require HIV/AIDS prevention education. Any sexuality education that is provided must “have as one of its primary purposes the teaching of or informing students about the practice of abstinence.”