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Which US college has the most STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States, with young people being disproportionately affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people aged 15-24 account for nearly half of the 20 million new STDs reported each year in America despite being only 25% of the sexually active population. This high STD rate among young people is concerning, as STDs can lead to long-term health consequences like infertility if left untreated.

College students are at an even greater risk for contracting STDs due to factors like participation in unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, and exposure to high-risk social activities involving sex and alcohol. But are there certain colleges that see higher STD rates than others? Let’s take a look at the data and explore which US colleges have the most STDs.

Background on Common STDs

Before diving into STD rates by college, it helps to understand some background on the most common STDs:

Chlamydia – Caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, chlamydia is the most frequently reported STD in America. Often asymptomatic, chlamydia can lead to complications like pelvic inflammatory disease in women if untreated. It is transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected partner.

Gonorrhea – The bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes this STD which can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is often asymptomatic but can cause serious health problems if not treated. Transmission occurs through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Syphilis – Caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, syphilis progresses through primary, secondary, latent, and late stages if not treated with antibiotics. Sores, rashes, fever, and other symptoms appear during the first two stages while late-stage syphilis can damage organs like the heart and brain. It spreads through unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – HPV refers to a group of over 150 related viruses, some of which cause genital warts while others lead to cell changes that may become cervical, anal, or other cancers. Most sexually active people contract HPV at some point. Vaccines can prevent infection from HPV types that cause cancer.

Herpes – Both herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) can cause oral and genital herpes. After initial infection, the virus lies dormant and can reactivate periodically with symptoms like blisters. Herpes spreads via skin-to-skin contact and is lifelong. Medications can reduce severity and transmission risk.

Knowing the common STDs and their transmission methods is important for prevention and detection. Now let’s analyze STD rates across different colleges.

National Data on STDs in College-Aged Individuals

Getting a big-picture view of the STD epidemic among college-age youth can provide helpful context before looking at individual universities.

The CDC tracks rates of the most reported STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. In their 2021 STD Surveillance Report, the CDC found:

  • People aged 20-24 had the highest rates of chlamydia (3,967.9 cases per 100,000 population) and gonorrhea (680.8 cases per 100,000 population) compared to any other age group.
  • Although lower than 20-24 year olds, 15-19 year olds also had high rates of chlamydia (2,172.9 cases per 100,000 population) and gonorrhea (381.7 cases per 100,000 population).
  • For primary and secondary syphilis, 20-24 year olds again ranked highest with 36.1 cases per 100,000 population while the rate for 15-19 year olds was 6.8 per 100,000.

Rates of other STDs like HPV and herpes do not have age-specific national surveillance but are presumed to be high in adolescents and young adults as well.

These numbers illustrate how STD rates peak in individuals of typical college age. Multiple factors like biological susceptibility, inadequate sex education, barriers to STD testing, and risky sexual behaviors contribute to the high rates. But are STD rates consistent across all colleges or do certain ones stand out?

Limitations of College STD Rate Data

Before presenting statistics on STDs at specific universities, it is important to understand the limitations around this type of institution-level data.

There is no comprehensive, mandatory system for STD reporting at colleges and universities. The available data relies on voluntary self-reporting of STD cases by college health centers, which likely leads to underreporting.

Colleges have different population sizes, locales, demographics, health center resources, and STD testing outreach efforts – all factors that can affect STD rates independently of the university itself. Larger schools that actively encourage STD testing will diagnose more cases than small colleges lacking resources.

Finally, the stigma around STDs may prevent some students from utilizing on-campus sexual health services and getting tested at their university. Students may opt for off-campus testing instead, meaning their positive cases are not reflected in the college’s data.

With those limitations in mind, here is a look at the colleges with the most self-reported STD cases in recent years.

Colleges with the Most Reported STD Cases

University of Georgia

This public research university in Athens, Georgia reported high numbers of STDs among their student body in recent campus health data:

  • 2017-2018 academic year: 2,450 STD cases
  • 2018-2019 academic year: 2,956 STD cases

Specific STD breakdown:

  • Chlamydia: 1,568 cases in 2018-2019
  • Gonorrhea: 376 cases in 2018-2019
  • Syphilis: 12 cases in 2018-2019

With over 37,000 students, University of Georgia’s STD rate is quite high relative to student population. Proactive testing and treatment are promoted through the University Health Center.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

This public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin also reports high numbers of STD diagnoses:

  • 2017 calendar year: 2,070 STD cases
  • 2018 calendar year: 2,338 STD cases

Specific STDs:

  • Chlamydia: 1,671 cases in 2018
  • Gonorrhea: 666 cases in 2018

University Health Services performs over 15,000 STD screenings each year and provides free condoms to encourage safe sex practices on campus. With over 30,000 undergraduates, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has concerning STD rates among students.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University’s main campus is located in Columbus, Ohio. Student Health Services reported the following STD rates:

  • 2017-2018 academic year: 2,040 STD cases
  • 2018-2019 academic year: 1,835 STD cases

Breakdown by STD:

  • Chlamydia: 1,472 cases in 2018-2019
  • Gonorrhea: 363 cases in 2018-2019

Syphilis cases increased from 4 to 9 cases between those two years. With nearly 46,000 undergraduate students, STD prevention is a priority for Ohio State’s health center.

Notable Recent College STD Outbreaks

In addition to colleges reporting consistently high STD numbers, some experience periodic STD outbreaks needing urgent public health response.

2018 UCLA Meningococcal Outbreak

In April 2018, the University of California Los Angeles reported a meningococcal disease outbreak caused by serogroup B meningococcus bacteria. By May, three cases were confirmed – two students and one visitor. Meningococcal disease leads to dangerous meningitis infection or blood poisoning. Close contact facilitates transmission and outbreaks often occur in group settings like colleges. In response, UCLA offered preventative antibiotics to over 1,000 students potentially exposed.

2019 University of Southern California Mumps Outbreak

From January-May 2019, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles County reported 61 confirmed and probable mumps cases connected to the university community. Mumps is a viral infection with hallmark symptoms like swollen salivary glands. Outbreaks happen when the virus spreads in congregate settings with close interactions. USC Health worked closely with public health authorities to contain the outbreak through notifications, exclusions of sick individuals, and over 1,000 MMR vaccine doses administered to students.

2020 University of Wisconsin-Madison COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted colleges across America, with campus outbreaks requiring emergency response. The University of Wisconsin-Madison faced one of the largest school-related outbreaks in Fall 2020. From September 2-29, 3,175 COVID-19 cases were linked to UW-Madison, comprising 61% of Dane County’s total cases then. Restrictions and remote learning were implemented to control transmission. This example highlights the continued importance of infectious disease prevention on university campuses.

Factors Behind High College STD Rates

Looking at the data, it is clear certain colleges report substantially more STD cases than others. But why do these high STD rates occur?

There are a few key factors that likely contribute:

Sexual Behavior

College students tend to be sexually active and have multiple partners compared to other age groups. According to one study, 60-80% of college students report being sexually active and having an average of 2-3 sexual partners within the past year. Unprotected sex with multiple partners greatly raises STD risk. Casual sexual encounters facilitated by dating apps and partying with alcohol can also increase unsafe sex practices.

Limited Sex Education

Young people may not have comprehensive knowledge about STD prevention prior to college. Sex education quality in U.S. high schools is inconsistent, with few states mandating evidence-based curricula. Just 17 states require teaching about condoms and contraception.grads may thus enter college underprepared to make safe choices and communicate with partners.

Social Environment

The social scene at certain colleges promotes high-risk sexual behaviors through normalized hookup culture, Greek life parties, and alcohol/drug use. This creates an environment where students are more likely to have multiple casual partners and unprotected sex. Smaller colleges with less active social scenes tend to have lower STD rates.

Insufficient Testing/Treatment

College health centers vary widely in resources and some lack capacity to screen all sexually active students for common STDs. Students also face barriers like cost, transportation, and confidentiality concerns that prevent getting tested. Infrequent testing allows STDs to spread undetected. And those diagnosed may not receive prompt treatment or notify recent partners.

Understanding these reasons can help colleges adopt targeted STD prevention programs.

Strategies for Colleges to Reduce STD Rates

Given the high STD rates on certain campuses, what steps can universities take to improve student sexual health?

Provide Comprehensive Sex Education

Colleges should institute sex education tailored to older students, since high school level content may be inadequate. Topics like condom use, testing, STDs, healthy relationships and consent are important to cover. Programs can be integrated into orientation, residence halls, courses and campus health services.

Increase Access to Condoms

Making condoms available 24/7 in residence halls, health centers and other campus locations reduces barriers to safe sex. Free condoms and educational materials can be distributed at events and through student peer groups.

Offer Free or Low-Cost STD Testing/Treatment

By providing STD testing services on campus, universities can diagnose and treat STDs in the student population. Rapid testing, convenient appointment options and cost-free care remove hurdles students face off campus. Prescription coverage for STD medications keeps treatment affordable.

Promote STD Prevention Communication/Campaigns

College health promotion units can utilize social media, campus newspaper ads, poster campaigns, text messaging services, and peer advocacy groups to widely communicate about STD prevention. Fostering open conversation makes safe sex more normalized.

Train Student Leaders as Health Ambassadors

Equipping student leaders in Greek life, athletics, residential advising and other campus roles with STD prevention skills and resources enables them to directly influence their peers’ sexual health behaviors in positive ways.

Reviewing innovative strategies like these and implementing best practices tailored for their campus context allows colleges to play an active part in improving student sexual health outcomes.


STD rates remain at epidemic levels among college-aged young people in America, fueled by inadequate sex education, barriers to testing and treatment, and campus environments that facilitate high-risk sexual behaviors. While limited data makes comparisons difficult, some universities clearly stand out as experiencing more STD cases among students when self-reported to campus health services. The University of Georgia, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio State University are examples with consistently high numbers of STD diagnoses in recent years.

Combating this public health issue requires a coordinated, multifaceted response from university administrations, health centers, public health experts, and students themselves. Comprehensive sex education, access to testing and prevention resources, health promotion campaigns, and student peer training programs allow colleges to equip students with the knowledge and skills for healthy sexual decision-making. With concerted effort, universities can play a pivotal role in reversing the tidal wave of STDs among young people in the United States.