Wellness Center warns of STIs spreading

Linda Hancock, director of the Wellness Resource Center, encourages students to get tested to avoid the spread of STIs on campus. Photo by Julie Tripp.

Ali Jones
Contributing Writer

Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates may be on the rise for male students at VCU.

Nancy Harris, a nurse practitioner to the VCU Student Health Services, said chlamydia and gonorrhea rates have held steady, if not decreased, for females in the past three years. For male students, chlamydia and gonorrhea rates have began increasing, slowly, but steadily, especially within the past year or so.

“This may be because males only come in for testing if they’re symptomatic. I’m not sure if this will be an upward trend or if it’s just a fluke,” Harris said. “We’ll have to watch over the next few years and see what happens.”

HIV and syphilis rates continue to stay very low at VCU, and the Herpes Simplex Virus rates have stayed the same for about the past six years, Harris said.

STI rates differ from male and female students, and are hard to pin, because STIs are measured only on the students who get tested. The VCU Student Health Services recommend regular testing for male and female students for the safety of students who are sexually active.

When dealing with STIs, determining certain times of the year when outbreaks could be lighter or heavier is hard to measure; outbreaks vary from year to year, and the rates of different STIs fluctuate.

Linda Hancock, Ph.D., director of the Well and clinician to both the Well and VCU Student Health Services, has noted certain patterns of cases, in both genders and times of the year.

“There is an increase in STIs anytime students have unprotected sex. I don’t know the stats about holidays, but we generally see an influx after events such as spring break and winter break,” Hancock said. “And women are more likely than men to go get asymptomatic screening.”

To prevent the further spread of cases between people, Hancock said students should take advantage of VCU Student Health Services’ resources.

“Women may have more screening because they come in yearly for exams, but our men typically come in if there is a concern or symptom,” Harris said.

With both unprotected and even protected sex, STIs spread, with little or no symptoms. seventy five percent of people with chlamydia have no symptoms, and 80 percent of women and 40 percent of men with gonorrhea do not present symptoms, according to the VCU Student Health Services Fact Sheet.

Phillip Yelverton, a freshman and engineering major at VCU, believes that people who are sexually active, should partake in regular yearly testing for STIs.

“There’s no shame in it, and being healthy is more important than being embarrassed. And if someone does have something, even just a possible symptom, they should definitely get checked out, instead of risking giving it to someone else,” Yelverton said.

Hancock, who advocates testing for male and female students, expanded on when testing is necessary.

“If students are sexually active, using protection, and have no symptoms, then I would recommend annual checkups,” Hancock said. “If they have had unprotected sex that concerns them, then they should be tested two weeks after the encounter for chlamydia gonorrhea testing, and six weeks to three months afterward for HIV and syphilis testing.”

Hancock said students who may have symptoms are recommended to be seen when they have the problem.

If no symptoms are present for chlamydia or gonorrhea, a urine sample is offered for both men and women for the first test, and a blood test is offered for HIV and syphilis. For genital warts, treatment is free if manageable in the clinic.

Hancock also said women can pay for the Well Woman Exam, which includes chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, HIV and syphilis testing, and a full exam including the pap smears. Other testing is additionally offered on and off campus, especially for those who feel they cannot afford the VCU Student Health Services.

Free oral HIV testing is offered in the student commons and at the Well three times a semester, in partnership with Fan Free and Raise5Project. The last two dates for the semester are Wednesday, March 19 in the commons and Wednesday, April 16 at the Well.

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