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STI Campaign to Address Rising STI Cases in Tulsa County

TULSA, OKLA. – [May 15, 2023] – The Tulsa Health Department is launching a new public health prevention campaign in response to rising rates of sexually transmitted infections in Tulsa County. The campaign will target Gen Z young adults ages 18-24 with messages to encourage the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STIs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report titled Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2021, which provides the most recent and complete data for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. In 2021, rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continued to rise, with more than 2.5 million STI cases reported. Increase in rates of syphilis at all stages, and congenital syphilis were particularly high, with a 74% and 203% increase since 2017, respectively. STIs continue to disproportionately impact racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups. Additionally, the data shows geographic clustering of some STIs. 

As of 2020, Oklahoma ranked 4th highest for the rate of primary and secondary syphilis and 5th for rates of congenital syphilis of all states in the U.S. In 2021, Oklahoma had 1,225 cases of primary and secondary syphilis at 30.7 per 100,000 persons. The increase in cases brings an increase in health care costs. In 2021, the annual burden in Tulsa County was $4.7 million alone. 
The only solution to curb this staggering inflation of cases and costs is prevention. THD offers confidential, low-cost STI testing and treatment programs at five clinics throughout Tulsa County. Additionally, on-the-street outreach efforts include educating the public and delivering prevention resources throughout the community. The new public health prevention campaign will reinforce the importance of prevention measures as well as provide information about STI testing and treatment in order to address the rising case numbers. 

“We have to remember we’re in the climate of hookup culture which can lead to anonymous partners and unprotected sex,” said Associate Director of Preventive Health Priscilla Haynes. “We also have unhealthy relationships with risky behaviors where partners don’t properly communicate about expectations or condom use. So, we want to empower these individuals to protect themselves by promoting condom use when engaging in sexual activity.”

The advertising campaign includes eye-catching graphics and relies on Gen Z slang vocabulary to relate to this population. In order to reach more Tulsa County residents, the campaign includes advertisements in Spanish as well. A QR code on printed advertisements, like bus shelters and posters in bar restrooms, leads to a bilingual microsite with information for STI prevention resources including free condoms.

“We can’t scream and shout or try to instill fear in our messaging, as these tactics have shown to be ineffective,” said Senior Director of Marketing and Communication Leanne Stephens. “We have to talk to our audience in ways they can relate to, so they will be more inclined to listen to the message. And we also must reach them in places where they are. Our audience isn’t visiting health-related websites to find information on STIs, they’re just living their lives.”

The STI campaign will use a combination of digital, social media, outdoor, and streaming audio advertising. The digital channels’ target demographic will engage with digital display, Spotify audio and paid social posts. The print media channels will be through billboards, transit shelters and buses as well as popular bar destinations in geographic zip codes with the highest rates of STIs. The goal is to reduce the rate of infection in Tulsa County by driving awareness of proven prevention tactics, testing and treatment. 

“We’d love to completely eliminate the spread of STIs in Tulsa County; however, the reality is that if this campaign can help just a few percent of the people to take preventative actions, it will still be a success,” said Stephens. 

For more information about STI testing and treatment offered by the Tulsa Health Department please call 918-582-9355 or visit our STI page.

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