NASHVILLE, Tenn — Teen-agers may have outgrown their fear of ghouls and goblins, but health officials believe their haunted house has something far scarier: gonorrhea and genital warts.
Hoping to combat one of the nation’s highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, city health officials have staged the “STD Free! Haunted House.”
As visitors make their way through a dimly lit, S-shaped maze, they view startling, full-color photos of canker sores and genital warts on male and female genitalia infected with syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea. An empty casket at the end sends a message that death awaits anyone who does not practice safe sex.
“We want to scare their pants back on,” said Elizabeth Frazier, a registered nurse at Tennessee State University’s health center. “We encourage abstinence. But if they can’t do that, then use protection.”
Lynnette Whitlow, program specialist for the city health department, said some football players could barely get through last year’s haunted house.
“Guys would come up and say nothing scares them,” Whitlow said, “then before they could get around the corner ... I could hear them screaming.”
The haunted house was developed three years ago after Nashville reported the second-highest rate of syphilis in the country — 250 cases, or 45 cases per 100,000 people.
Haunted house visitors are given “goody bags” filled with brochures on sexually transmitted diseases, and can get a free STD test once they complete the maze.
Last year, more than 1,600 visited the haunted house and 60 students were tested for HIV and syphilis.
“I think it will have a positive effect and deter freshman like myself from making mistakes,” said Jordan Williams, a freshman from Toledo, Ohio, who planned to take a tour when the house opened Wednesday. “I don’t know if it will make people abstain, but I do think they will consider using protection.”