OMG, GYT! From STIs to STDs

MCT Campus
I’m sure that most of you would rather be thinking about blow jobs, porn or even anal sex instead of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. But I’m also sure that most of you are unaware that April is STI Awareness Month, thanks to a partnership between MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Planned Parenthood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our own Student Health Services (SHS). These organizations, along with many others, are working to promote STD awareness through the Get Yourself Tested (GYT) campaign, which encourages sexual health consciousness and education among youth groups all over the country.

Although avoiding talking about HPV (human papillomavirus), HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or herpes may seem easier than confronting their infectious realities, GYT and the organizations surrounding STD Awareness Month remind us that they cannot be ignored. According to a GYT campaign poster, one in two sexually active young people will get a sexually transmitted infection by age 25.

St. Louis, as reported by SHS, has been ranked in the top five U.S. cities for STIs since 2000. Furthermore, SHS reports that St. Louis was number one per capita in chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2006 and 2007. According to the CDC, in 2008, 18,314 cases of chlamydia (out of 100,000) in the state of Missouri were diagnosed in 8- to 24-year-olds. Although rates of youth STI contraction vary by county from 1 percent to 6 percent between chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, most Missouri counties count 3 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds as infected with chlamydia.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most treatable STIs, as all three respond to prompt antibiotic treatment; however, they are also some of the most common and require both partners to be treated simultaneously, which can be difficult in more casual sexual situations. Other common STIs include HPV, trichomoniasis (trich), hepatitis B, genital herpes and HIV. HPV, with 6.2 million new cases each year, ranks next to trich (5 million new cases per year) as one of the most rapidly spreading STIs in the last decade.

Trich is a parasitic infection that usually causes a green discharge or discomfort in females and sometimes a penile discharge in males. Although only spread through vaginal intercourse, as opposed to oral or anal sex, trich is one of the few STIs that can remain in your system.

But, although most people develop symptoms of trich within the first weeks after exposure, not all people necessarily develop symptoms. In fact, with most STIs—especially HPV—no visible symptoms occur at all. Genital herpes is another particularly good example. While 45 million Americans are currently diagnosed with genital herpes (herpes 2), studies have shown that 80 to 90 percent of those with genital herpes have not been diagnosed at all!

Because the majority of those infected show no symptoms, this viral illness is one of the many reasons getting tested is the only way to truly know if you have an STI—one that can be spread not only around your own body, especially if you are female, but to your partner(s) as well.

According to Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STI and TB Prevention, in the CDC’s final press release statement for STI awareness month, the estimated cost of STIs to the U.S. health care system is nearly $16 billion annually. And diseases and infections from sexual contact are 100 percent preventable!

Melissa Ruwitch, assistant director of SHS and chief of Health Promotion Services, said, “At SHS we believe that if students are mature enough to be in sexual relationships, they would be smart enough to take care of their partners.” She continued, “An important aspect [beyond physical protection] is emotional protection; it’s important to be prepared for emotional risks and to remember that third aspect of sexual decision making.” Being emotionally prepared requires a sexually active young adult to know the facts about sex and also how these facts can impact his or her life.

For information about coping with sexual assault or emotions surrounding sexual decision making, please visit: coping.wustl.edu.

For more information about STIs, STI testing and services on campus, please visit: shs.wustl.edu/sex.htm.