The Health and Wellness Center has treated eight cases of sexually transmitted infections including herpes and chlamydia this semester, according to Jill Perry, director of student health and wellness services.
Rumors about STIs have circulated around campus since the beginning of the semester, labeling Queens a hotbed for communicable diseases. Perry debunked such sensational talk, saying that STIs were endemic on most college campuses and not out of the norm. She did, however, express a certain level of concern about Queens’ situation.
“Eight cases is not uncommon for an entire semester,” she said, “but it was unusual to see a spike at the beginning of the year.”
About one in four college students in America have an STI. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 19 million new infections occur each year, with almost half of cases occurring in the 15- to 24-year-old demographic.
Dean of Students John Downey speculated that there may not be a spike in STIs at all, but rather an increase of reports.
“I don’t think we really know if this is a true spike or an artificial spike based on reporting,” said Downey. “Students may not seek treatment or go to their own physician. The good part to all of this is that they are trusting us.”
Downey went on to say that that he would draw a conclusion that the increase of alcohol policy violations and the STI scare are correlated. To him, it comes as no surprise that numbers may have jumped after 10 recent incidents involving alcohol which resulted in emergency action.
“If you have an adult on a college campus talking about STIs, and he doesn’t mention alcohol, he is incompetent,” said Downey.
Health and Wellness is not sponsoring any events or information sessions to combat the rise in STI numbers, although it does engage in passive programming to prevent the spread of infection.
“Whenever we set up somewhere, we usually bring condoms,” said Perry. “There are also bulletin boards around.”
Perry confirmed that the center has communicated with RAs, saying that resources are available. She highlighted that if any organization or student wanted to host an event, she was open to participating, noting that there are presentations and slideshows already designed.
The university offers free and anonymous screenings for HIV and syphilis every month through the Mecklenberg County Health Department.
“Even we don’t know who comes in and gets tested during this time,” said Perry.
Health and Wellness also performs regular testing, although typically at a charge. They can test for anything, although the most common screenings are performed for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
When asked how students could prevent contraction of an STI, Perry stressed the importance of safe sex.
“While abstinence is the most secure way to prevent STIs, sexuality is a normal part of human development,” she said. “College is when people are sexually active and experimenting. Be safe. Barrier devices like condoms or dental dams are very effective for prevention.”
One problem nurses often see is a partner in a monogamous relationship becoming infected. Perry encourages everyone to feel comfortable discussing the issue of sexual safety and insisting on the use of protection.
“A relationship is only monogamous until it’s not,” she said. “It’s an iffy situation … you can’t always assume that you’re safe.”
Dean Downey believes that the vast majority of responsibility to prevent STIs is on the part of students. He said that friends are often one’s lifeline and should not engage in or tolerate risky sexual behavior or excess consumption of alcohol.
The effects of STIs are many, spanning both the physical and emotional spectrums. Carriers may feel guilty or betrayed by a partner. Perry mentioned a “stigma” many of her patients discuss during visits.
Physiological ramifications vary by disease, but a common result is infertility, especially in women. Some infections, like herpes, are even permanent.
“There is no cure,” said Perry. “It may be treatable, but the virus lives inside of your body.”
The Health and Wellness Center, located at 2322 Wellesly Ave. next to Barnhardt Residence Hall, is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Wednesday. Walks-in visits are accommodated when possible.