As the HIV and STI rates increase nationally and regionally, the Mecklenburg Health Department is collaborating with the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte to raise awareness about sexual health in the Charlotte metro area.
The goal of the event series is to remove stigma and barriers to sexual health, such as a lack of education or resources, and encourage people to get tested.
“There’s a lot of stigmas that people face when it comes to talking about sexuality, talking about orientation, talking about gender identity, and also mistrust in healthcare services,” Meagan Zarwell, director of preventive health at the Academy for Population Health Innovation at UNC Charlotte, said.
Free STI testing sites will be held at three college campuses on various dates from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- UNC Charlotte: 10/12
- Davidson College: 10/17
- Queens University: 10/19
Once tested, community members and students alike will be connected to any needed resources.
HIV has been a concern throughout the Charlotte area for years now, according to local data.
In 2022, 66% of people living with HIV in the Charlotte Transitional Grant Area, known as Charlotte TGA, which consists of Anson, Cabarrus, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Union and York County, were Black.
HIV diagnoses within the Charlotte TGA have risen significantly in recent years.
- As of 2022, 389 people were newly diagnosed with HIV and 9,056 people living with HIV
Zarwell said many of the new HIV diagnoses are high among males, young adults, men who have sex with men, and the Black community.
“We also know that HIV affects primarily younger folks,” Zarwell said. “The most common age group for new [HIV] diagnoses are people who are aged 18 to 36.”
The highest rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was among adult and adolescent Black men, according to the 2021 North Carolina HIV Surveillance Report.
That same report stated that Black adults made up 57% of all cases of newly diagnosed HIV cases across North Carolina that year.
The number of reported early syphilis infections has also risen sharply in North Carolina since 2013.
“We have a syphilis epidemic happening,” Zarwell said.
Across the state, rates of infections have risen according to the 2013 North Carolina STD Surveillance Report.
- In 2013, the state saw a total of 677 cases.
- In 2021, that number rose to 3,162 cases.
Mecklenburg County ranks second in the number of people newly diagnosed with early syphilis across the state, following closely behind Durham County, according to the 2021 North Carolina STD Surveillance Report.
From 2017 to 2021, Mecklenburg County residents represented up to 25% of statewide early syphilis infections, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department.
In Mecklenburg County, people newly diagnosed with early syphilis has also risen over the years, according to the same report
- In 2021, there were a total of 721 people newly diagnosed with early syphilis.
- In 2020, there were a total of 576 people newly diagnosed with early syphilis.
- In 2019, there were 472 people newly diagnosed with early syphilis.
Similar to HIV, Black men had the highest rates of infection, accounting for 48% of all syphilis cases in North Carolina.