Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are increasing at an alarming rate nationally for people between the ages of 15 to 24. With the celebration of Valentine’s Day, students should be alert and careful to practice safe sex.
Physician Assistant at Student Health, Hannah Varney, said most STDs are bacterial infections and if left untreated, they can lead to significant health consequences, such as infertility or inflammatory infections. Some can even go to the brain and cause neurological damage.
The best way to prevent an STD from occurring is abstinence, but that is not always the case for some, according to Varnery. She said the second-best way is using condoms.
She said over the past couple years, people are straying away from condoms and aren’t having sex safely which could be a factor as to why the rates are higher.
“There are a lot of factors that could explain why STD’s are on the rise, but I think the biggest thing is just not using condoms. If you can identify an STD, you can treat them or manage them so that people are overall healthy,” Varney said.
Nationally, chlamydia is the most common STD, according to Varney. North Carolina rates sixth in the nation for chlamydia and ninth in the nation for gonorrhea she said.
A lot of people think they can only get STDs from vaginal intercourse. However, it can also be transmitted by some type of sexual contact like oral sex. She said one can’t get an STD from a bathroom or by sharing a towel, which is a common misconception.
“That’s the biggest misconception. People aren’t using barrier methods or protection with all types of intercourse,” Varney said.
Additionally, Varney shared that chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all treated with antibiotics and once they’re treated those will go away. She said viral infections, like Herpes, HPV, HIV or genital warts are worse because those can be managed, but they are not curable. Those specific infections also have psychological impacts, but it’s harder not only physically, but mentally as well, according to Varney.
For those STDs that can be treated by antibiotics, it is recommended that there should be no sexual contact for at least a week. Typically, within a week it can be treated, but more than one STD can be transmitted at the same time if there is any sexual contact, Varney said.
She recommends knowing your partner or partners and getting tested prior to being sexually active, as well as the use of protection. Getting tested regularly is also one of the best preventions.
As health providers, it’s their job to consider all options and rule things out. Varney said when she has people coming in thinking they have a Urinary Tract Infection or another issue, the door is always opened for that conversation about STD testing.
Student Health has a Fast-Track Clinic in which people can go in just to get tested. She said they don’t have to show any symptoms to receive the test and if the student has insurance through ECU, the fee is covered. Those who have outside insurance tend to be covered for the test as well. Varney said.
Varney said when an appointment is made, the student will be put on the schedule, and they’ll see a nurse when they come to the appointment. It’s a really quick appointment and they can get any testing they request. Student Health usually can get results for gonorrhea and chlamydia within twenty-four hours, which she said is a lot faster than other places.
“It is an easy process and easy access and we are becoming a network with many more insurance companies every day, so it makes it a little easier for students. Sometimes students don’t want to put it on their insurance, so they have the option to pay out of pocket,” Varney said.
If students go to Student Health’s pharmacy, they can get 10 condoms for around $2. There’s even a paper where students can just circle what they want so they don’t even have to talk to anyone when they go in, according to Varney.
“We always try to make every opportunity to get students condoms if they are using them,” Varney said.
Varney said ECU’s Student Health services is the only place where students can get STD testing, but there is another location at the Health Sciences Campus. There is also Pitt County Health Department and Pitt County Pregnancy Center are other areas in town that offer STD testing.
Wellness Coordinator at Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, Daniella Jean-Izaguirre, said STD’s when left untreated can cause a lot of long-term issues and really negative consequences for both men and women.
Jena-Izaguirre said it is also important for students to understand using condoms will prevent unwanted pregnancies and STD transmission, but birth control only helps with preventing unwanted pregnancies.
“A really good recommendation is to get tested every six months if you are sexually active and, or every time you have a new partner. Even if you have the same partner, it is important to still get tested regularly,” Jean-Izaguirre said.
Jean-Izaguirre said Keep It Safe and Sexy, or K.I.S.S, packets from the Wellness Center come with a male condom, packets of lube and an information card that describes how to put on a condom correctly and information about STD testing at Student Health. They also offer internal condoms or female condoms and dental dams if students prefer those.
The Wellness Center offers K.I.S.S packets at several locations including Student Health Services, Women and Gender Office, LGBTQ Center and the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. These organizations are provided with these packets multiple times throughout the semester by the Wellness Center, according to Jean-Izaguirre.
“We try to provide K.I.S.S. packets all throughout campus so they have access to these resources in several different places,” Jean-Izaguirre said.