Risky Business

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    It was supposed to be a routine checkup for a TCU senior until she found out she had Human papillomavirus, or HPV.

    “I was just very surprised when they called and told me,” the senior said. “I always used condoms and I had the Gardasil vaccine, so I thought, ‘There’s no way I have HPV,’ but I did.”

    This TCU senior is one student in the 80 percent of college students who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and experience no noticeable symptoms, according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

    One in four college students have an STI, according to Stanford University’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center.

    Although TCU does not release the number of students with STIs, Trojan’s 2013 Sexual Health Report Card, which ranks 140 American colleges and universities on their sexual health resources, ranked TCU No. 118, five spots down from its No. 113 position in 2012.

    The only public record of STIs at TCU is the National College Health Assessment, which surveyed 580 TCU students during the 2013 spring semester.

     

    Of the students surveyed:

    · 1 percent had genital herpes

    · 1.9 percent had genital warts/HPV

    · 1 percent had gonorrhea

    · 1 percent had hepatitis B or C

    · .3 percent had HIV

    Johnnie Ireland, the women’s health practitioner at TCU’s health center, said that releasing the STI statistics may deter students from coming to TCU.

    “It’s more important for us to think about how we can decrease the risk of STIs, and how we are doing on educating and preventing these things from happening,” Ireland said.

    In her interview, Ireland brought up how the TCU Health Center provides STI testing on a walk-in basis.

    For one senior nursing major, taking advantage of this service meant conquering some fears, including knowing the results.

    “I’ve been sexually active for a while, but was always a little afraid of getting tested because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know the results,” the nursing major said. “But looking back, it was really irresponsible of me not to go sooner.”

    Lab and testing fees are covered for students who have health insurance through TCU. For students with other insurances, cash or check at the time of your testing or a student account charge can be used, TCU’s nurse director, Kelle Tillman, said. The charges would come up under “student health charges,” Tillman said.

     

     

    In the case of this nursing major, as was the case with other students, one reason she delayed to get tested was the fear of having her parents finding out about the testing. Tillman said she wanted to assure students that medical privacy is the top priority of the health center.

    “We do everything to protect student confidentiality, even if their parents called asking what the health center charges were,” Tillman said. “We wouldn’t give them any information.”

    Ireland said that all of the STI tests provided by the health center are quick and non-evasive, with results coming back within two to five days.

    The nursing major who did get tested praised the center for efficiency, professionalism and thorough knowledge.

    “I thought it was going to be a really awkward and embarrassing situation, so I was surprised and relieved when she made me feel very comfortable and normal,” she said.

    Invisible signs

    Most of the STI testing Ireland does involves students who are asymptomatic, meaning they show no physical symptoms of an STI.

    Ireland said she cannot comment on what the most common STI is at TCU, but she did say TCU students fall into the 15-24-year-old age range where chlamydia is the most common STI.

    Ireland said there are noted inconsistencies in gathering STI statistics, including the discrepancy of certain STIs being reportable while others are not reportable.

    Ireland explained that “reportable” diseases are ones that health agencies are required to report to the local health department. While diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are considered officially reportable, diseases like herpes and HPV are estimates because they are not reportable, Ireland said.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 90 percent of people have some type of herpes, but herpes is one of the non-reportable STIs.

    “If herpes were reportable, I’m sure the numbers would be pretty high,” Ireland said.

    The herpes virus comes in two forms. Type One, which includes oral herpes or cold sores, is the most common type of herpes. Type Two herpes, better known as genital herpes, can be asymptomatic or result in genital warts.

    Fifty percent of Type Two herpes cases are asymptomatic, and one in five Americans has it, according to Medical Surgical Nursing: Assessment and Management of Clinical Problems.

    Ireland said the medical community is changing what they know about herpes because of oral sex. Both types of herpes can be transferred between partners to the genitals or mouth during oral sex, she said.

    Tillman said women particularly should be aware of how herpes is transmitted, as herpes can limits their options on how they can give birth.

    “Once herpes is acquired, we can only treat the symptoms, but we cannot get rid of the virus,” Ireland said. “Then you have the burden of informing your partner that you have herpes, so it’s psychologically impairing.”

    The previously mentioned senior who was diagnosed with HPV agreed about the psychological effects. She said the hardest part of the ordeal was telling her boyfriend about the disease. Since men cannot be tested for HPV, she cannot tell whether her boyfriend gave her the disease or not.

    “We couldn’t tell if he gave it to me or if he had it now because of me,” she said. “And now if he has any other sexual partners in the future, he could potentially give them HPV.”

    Many studies conclude that practicing safe sex by using condoms decreases chances of contracting an STI, but some STIs can still be transferred even while using a condom.

    “You can still get HPV or herpes from just genital to genital contact. Although condoms are really good to use, especially to protect from gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV, they are not 100 percent,” Ireland said. 

    Ireland said she stresses the importance of being informed on STIs, including how to treat diseases and to make good judgments on sexual activity.

    Karen Bell Morgan, the assistant dean of Campus Life for health promotion, said TCU provides sexual education mainly through organizations on campus and a monthly bathroom reader called “The Stall Chronicles,” which can be found in residence halls and the BLUU.

    Ireland said the most important way to protect yourself from STIs is to be educated and open with your sex partner(s), including sexual histories.

    Talking about STIs with your partner can be intimidating, but as the senior attested, not knowing who you got a STI from is worse.

    “It was a really scary situation,” said the senior. “I feel like I have always been very cautious about practicing safe sex, but I still got a rare strand of HPV.” 

    The senior said that six months later at her next check-up, her immune system had fought the HPV and she was clear of the disease. 

    “It’s still scary to think that I will never know who I got it from,” she said.

    For additional information on STIs, visit the Brown-Lupton Health Center website.