Tennessee: Downtown STD Rates Puzzle Health Officials
February 6, 2004
New Health Department data show STDs up to five times higher in downtown Chattanooga's 37403 ZIP code than in any other area of Hamilton County. The county ranks fourth-highest in the state for chlamydia, fifth for gonorrhea and 17th for syphilis, according to Tennessee Department of Health figures. Health officials do not understand why the 37403 postal zone has rates as high as 28.5 percent for chlamydia alone. Chlamydia infections in the neighborhood are 104 times the state rate; gonorrhea rates are about 87 times higher. Nearly 46 percent of 34703's chlamydia infections occurred in 19- to 24-year-olds, 68 percent of whom were African Americans.Adapted from:
The 37403 area has most of the city's homeless shelters and a mix of inner-city poverty and urban revitalization. It is home to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, the Health Department, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The county's highest syphilis rate is just to the south, in the 37408 zone, where nearly half the population lives below the federal poverty level and median household income is less than $10,000 a year.
Local shelter workers refer homeless persons to the Health Department-run Homeless Health Care Clinic in the 34703 area. Many homeless people use shelters as their mailing address, which may be reflected in the data. Ron Berryman, a chaplain at the Chattanooga Rescue Mission, said the numbers may also reflect high prostitution rates downtown.
Pam Pitts, STD/HIV field services director for the state Health Department, said Hamilton County disease rates are not surprising. The challenge to health officials is how to reach out to those most at risk. Pitts said African Americans and gay white men are most at risk for syphilis and that people ages 15-19 are most likely to contract gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Chattanooga Times Free Press
02.01.04; Ashley M. Heher