STIs at MU? Studies suggest all youth should be careful

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Students may treat sexually transmitted infections like an urban legend, but an increasing number are finding out they’re real.

According to Carolyn Smith, executive director of Student Health Service, STIs are increasing across the United States, and Marquette students are not immune from that increase.

“If it’s prevalent in the community,” Smith said, “it will be prevalent here.”

Luckily, statistics suggest Marquette students with STIs still remain below the national average. According to the 2009 National College Health Assessment, in the prior 12 months, 4 percent of Marquette students reported being diagnosed or treated by a professional for an STD/I, while 5.1 percent of college students nationwide reported the same.

However, Marquette students are less likely to use condoms than students nationally; 50 percent of Marquette students had in the prior 12 months, versus 56.8 nationwide.

The Center for Health Education and Promotion was unable to administer the NCHA survey in 2011 but will administer the survey this spring.

Last year SHS tested 133 people for STIs, and about 2 percent of the STI tests were positive.

STIs are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, usually transmitted by sexual activity with an infected person. With the exception of viral infections such as genital herpes, genital warts, hepatitis and HIV, most STIs can be cured.

Smith said it is hard to gauge exactly how prevalent STIs are on campus because many students choose to be treated or tested for STIs off-campus.

Smith said the three most prevalent STIs on Marquette’s campus are human papillomavirus, chlamydia and genital herpes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2010 the three most commonly reported STIs on college campuses were HPV, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Smith said these infections are prevalent across the country and are easily transmitted through all forms of sexual contact.

She also said that the number of sexual partners Marquette students have might partially explain the lower STI rates.

According to 2009 NCHA data however, 51 percent of Marquette students reported having two or fewer sexual partners, while 13 percent reported three or more partners and 35 percent reported zero partners.

The 2010 STD Surveillance report by the CDC said estimates suggest that young people ages 15-24 represent 25 percent of the sexually-experienced population but acquire nearly half of all new STIs. According to the American Social Health Association, by the age of 25, half of all youth will acquire one or more sexually transmitted infections.

In the U.S. alone there are approximately 19 million new cases each year, according to the American Social Health Association, about half of which occur among the ages 15-24.

Bill Brozon, public health educator for the City of Milwaukee Health Department, cited three specific behaviors that place youth at the greatest risk for STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy:having multiple, sequential or concurrent sex partners; engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse; and selecting a partner at higher risk.

He said one approach to reduce the behavior risks is to utilize the “ABC strategy”– Abstinence, Be faithful to one partner – or, if “A” or “B” cannot be achieved, use Condoms.

“But even if every agency, organization, or parent in the community delivered these messages, it still might not be enough to solve the problem of STIs,” Brozon said, adding that even the ABC strategy has its faults.

“There may be a discrepancy between young adults’ STI status and self-reported sexual behaviors regarding abstinence,” Brozon said. He also said that the downplaying of the effectiveness of condoms creates a breakdown in the ABC strategy.

“Most HIV/STI transmission or pregnancy risks occur because of condom non-use or inconsistent use,” Brozon said.

While Marquette students are less likely to contract an STI, their awareness may not be better than that of other college students. About 80 percent of people who have a sexually transmitted infection experience no noticeable symptoms.

Smith said she has found there’s a lack of understanding about STIs among students.

“Students need to know what they are, how they’re transmitted and how to protect themselves,” Smith said.

After abstinence, Smith said that consistent and proper condom use is the best way to prevent contracting STIs.

April is STD awareness month, and starting in March Student Health Services will begin a big educational and testing push.

“The only way to really know if someone has an STI is to get tested,” Smith said.

Students said they think their peers are knowledgeable about sexual health and STIs.

Ryan Vincent, a senior in the College of Business Administration, said he thinks most students are knowledgeable about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections. He said most people received sexual education in high school where they were taught about sexual health and STIs.

“People are definitely knowledgeable (about STIs),” Vincent said. He said most people take precautions to prevent contracting diseases and infections through sexual activity.

Melissa May, a senior in the college of Arts & Sciences, agreed.

“Most people know about (STIs) but they don’t ever think that it will happen to them,” May said. She said this causes some students to not take precautions, such as using contraception, when engaging in sexual activity.

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