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What Makes Leon County STD Rate So High? Workgroup To Look Beyond Students

Leon County Seal

A Tallahassee-Leon County workgroup plans to inquire about the sexually transmitted infection rates at area universities and colleges. The committee is trying to find out what makes the county’s infection rate among the worst in the state, even compared with other college towns.

Tuesday’s meeting of the HIV/AIDS and STDs Working Group focused on a disturbing statistic, shared by Annelise Mennicke (formerly Martin), an FSU doctoral student assisting the workgroup with research:

“Leon County is No. 1 in the state for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.”

In addition to gathering statistics from the Florida Department of Health, the workgroup plans to find out if universities can provide self-tracked STD statistics.

And state health department workers say universities are certainly a great place to look.

Dale Harrison is the Florida Health Department’s director of the STD program for the 14-county region that includes Leon County. He says, “You’ve got 20-25,000 students coming in each year to Leon County, and that’s when our rates actually jump up because of that certain type of population.”

Harrison says, all health providers, including university clinics, must report STD infections to the state. But the state only breaks down its statistics by age, gender, race and area or ZIP code, not by individual health provider. But he says the rates among 18-24 year olds are the highest of any group, which also points to students.

But, as Annelise Mennicke told the work group, students don’t completely explain the worrisome numbers. 

“There’s something unique about Leon County that is making it higher than other places that have universities, like Gainesville,” she says.

At future meetings, the workgroup is also planning to address the disparity between HIV rates among people of different races in Leon County. For instance, black women are 15 times more likely than white women to be infected.

The workgroup is a subset of the Health Subcommittee of the Tallahassee-Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. All of its findings will be shared with the entire commission this fall. The commission then plans to release a report on a variety of issues in January. The report will include recommendations for addressing several of the challenges women face.

Updated: This story was updated with additional information on Sept. 18.