The University of Rhode Island’s Health Services worries that while the majority of students are educated about pregnancy and its prevention, they are not educated about common sexually transmitted diseases.
“We are human beings, we are sexual beings, sex is not a bad thing,” Fortunato Procopio, medical director and staff physician at URI Health Services, said. Â “But we need to be responsible about it in order to protect ourselves because sex has changed from what, in theory in western civilization was a way to make a child, to, in college students, what seems to be a form of recreation.”
URI is obligated by law to report positive cases of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea to the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH). Â According to HEALTH 80 cases of chlamydia were reported at URI in 2013; The number of tests administered were not recorded and could not be released by Health Services. Â No cases of syphilis or gonorrhea were reported.
“None of those are our most common STDs,” Procopio said. Â “Our most common viruses would be HPV [Human Papillomavirus] which we hope we will see less of in the future with the vaccine. Â The next most common things would be herpes and chlamydia.”
The American College Health Association (ACHA) Sexual Health Education and Clinical Care Coalition annually uses the findings from its Pap Test and STI Survey to summarize national statistics on sexually transmitted infection (STI) detection and treatment. Â Though the findings from the 2013 survey have not yet been released, 161 institutions and health centers responded to the 2012 survey, cumulatively totaling 2.7 million students.
Of the surveyed institutions, 96.3 percent offer STI screening for women upon request and 93.8 percent offered for men. Â 53.1 percent of those institutions, including URI, offered the screening at the cost of the patient. Â Â URI offers students concerned about anonymity the option of paying for the screening outside of their health insurance. Â If a patient is seeking screening after a sexual assault, screening fees are waived.
“The fact that someone presents here in that state is enough for us to remove any charge so there is no barrier to them getting health care,” URI Health Service Director Ellen Reynolds said.
Though the national statistics reported by the ACHA survey are interesting to Health Services, because the percentage of positive screenings reported does not account for students tested elsewhere or not tested at all, Procopio does not believe they are an accurate reflection of a campuses STI rate.
“If we look at URI students, there are 16,500 across the different campuses, we only see a small percentage of them,” Procopio said. Â “Those students that get seen elsewhere, we don’t know their results.”
Of the 44,948 reported syphilis tests conducted in 2012, 0.31 percent tested positive. Â Health Services tests patients for syphilis through a blood test. Â They also use a blood test to test for HIV. Â According to the ACHA survey, 61,869 HIV tests were conducted in 2012 and 0.1 percent of them were positive. Â Health Services now uses a Fourth-Generation HIV blood test that can diagnose a patient within two weeks of exposure. Â Previous tests could not detect infection accurately until three months after exposure.
Chlamydia tests were reported positive the highest out of the surveyed STIs. Â 4.4 percent of women and 7.7 percent of men tested positive for the disease. Â Chlamydia can be tested for at Health Services with a vaginal swab or a urine test. Â Gonorrhea is tested for the same way. Â Of the 148,325 people tested nationally for Gonorrhea, 0.4 percent of women and 1.9 percent of men tested positive.
The increased popularity of oral sex has made Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) 1 and 2 difficult to diagnose. Â According to Procopio “in the old days” HSV1 was typically oral herpes and HSV2 was genital; Both were easily recognizable by lesions in the oral or genital areas. Â Now it is not uncommon to see HSV1 on genitals or for people without lesions to unknowingly spread the disease. Â Though a herpes test run on a patient asking for a full STD workup could come back positive, the results could reflect a cold sore the patient had as a child, not a new HSV2 infection according to Procopio.
“By the time people are adults, maybe 80 percent of people have a form of herpes,” he said. “Not a well known fact. Â What many of them have is herpes type one.”
It is important to health services that students educate themselves and make conscious sexual decisions. Â Though abstinence is the only sure way to stay clean – “There are some people who are still abstinent,” Procopio said – honesty and selectivity in sexual encounters improve a sexually active persons chances of not contracting an STI. Â Condoms, which are available in most residence halls for free and at health services, will most likely protect against STIs contracted by penile discharge such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV.
“Your population is different than college populations 20 years ago,” Procopio said. Â “There’s a lot more sex going on in your population and I think people in your generation. Â We worry that people aren’t fully informed about things they may catch.”