Spreading safety on campus

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Spreading safety on campus

By Sam Pulling

Talking about sexually transmitted diseases and infections is an awkward conversation to have with friends, significant others and even doctors, to put it lightly. Still, it’s a conversation college students need to start having if they’re not already.

We’ve all heard that awkward question: “Are you sexually active?” Even if you weren’t, you then had to listen to “STD Prevention 101,” and probably thought, “Duh, I’m not stupid.”

But now, here you are in college, and the lines of safety might be blurred. The casual way we may approach relationships and hook-ups poses new chances for students to get unknowingly infected.

That talk with your doctor, your parents or even your crazy Uncle Frank tried to give you is now more important to remember than ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed yearly belong to people 15 to 24. More than one in four new HIV infections occur in people 13 to 24, and approximately 80 percent of those cases are males (sorry, boys).

Because young people seem so prone to STDs, we, as college students in this age range, not only need to protect ourselves from STDs and STIs, but we also need to get tested for them.

First things first: the basics.

Sexual health is constantly filled with the terms “STDs” and “STIs,” but we, or at least I, was never told what the difference was. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between infection and disease, and there isn’t. Except people who are infected may not experience symptoms or have the infection develop enough to become an STD.

The most common STDs are the ones you’ve probably heard of before — chlamydia, gonorrhea, human papillomavirus, syphilis, herpes, HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

As if the names wouldn’t scare us enough, of that list, the five H’s are incurable: HPV, herpes, HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

Now: when to get tested.

If you have any unusual symptoms and are sexually active, you should see your doctor to get checked immediately. Women under the age of 25 should get checked at least once annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea, even if they’ve used protection.

If you test positive for either of those, you should get further tests for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis, as having one STI puts you at risk for other STIs. HPV should be tested for every three years from 21 to 65.

You may have noticed that much of STD testing advice is aimed mostly at women. Most STI and STD testing falls on the shoulders of women because, in general, women are more greatly affected by STDs. This is because leaving an STD untreated can cause serious damages to women’s reproductive organs, leading to future fertility problems.

As young women, we still have our whole lives ahead of us. It’s important to keep our bodies healthy, and whether we think we want kids or not, our current health is crucial in order for us to have that option. Getting tested is just one more step in taking care of ourselves.

As for men, many doctors only test heterosexual men for STDs if they have symptoms of concern. There are a couple of reasons why their testing differs from female testing: Women are affected more severely by STDs and, until recently, STD tests involved painful swabbing (cringe).

However, STDs may affect men’s fertility as well, and urine tests are now available for chlamydia and gonorrhea, so men should become more aware of yearly tests with your doctor, as well.

Testing is still important whether or not you’re experiencing symptoms.

In fact, half of men and 70 percent of women can go years before they experience symptoms of chlamydia, if they ever experience them at all. In addition, 80 percent of people with herpes unknowingly have it and can pass it on accidentally to their sexual partners.

Undiagnosed STDs can have serious repercussions on physical and mental health. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause fertility damage; syphilis can cause contagious ulcers, brain, eye and ear infections; hepatitis B causes liver failure; and HIV leads to AIDS.

Luckily for University students, our campus has several resources available to students. The University was even ranked number 14 in sexual health resources according Trojan Condoms’ sexual health report card.

McKinley offers a website full of information: what STDs are, how to prevent them, what to do if you are diagnosed and where to go for help. They offer the McKinley Health Center/Dial-A-Nurse, a Sexual Health Educator and an Immunization and Travel Clinic, all there to help with different questions about STDs.

In an environment and age where people with STDs could be anywhere (one in four college students has one), it’s nice knowing we have support from the health services on campus.

?So, when ?you sign up for your next physical, tack on an STD test, just to be safe.

Sam is a sophomore in Media.

spullin2@dailyillini.com