Health Column: STD rates on the rise in college students

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Rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in the U.S and health care professionals are noticing an increase in the prevalence of new cases particularly among college students.

According to the CDC, nearly 50 percent of the 20 million STD cases diagnosed each year occur between people ages 15-24. The CDC confirms that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD diagnosed in college students and is often the cause of various conditions such as genital warts, cervical and genital cancers.

HPV is an incurable virus that often is presented with few or no symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose and highly contagious. Often infected individuals spread it before they realize they are sick.

Chlamydia is the second most common STD found in young people. The chlamydia infection can be treated. However, if left untreated it can cause permanent damage to reproductive organs, and researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with antibiotic resistant strains of the infection.

Herpes, also known as HSV-2, infects nearly 20% of all college students diagnosed with an STD. Although spread much like chlamydia, it isn’t curable. However, specific medications may be used to treat symptoms.

One of the main reasons for the recent spike in STD prevalence is the lack of condom use. Only around 50 percent of college students actually use condoms. Other than alcohol and drugs, which often lead to risky sexual encounters, many college students claim that the topic of condom use is embarrassing.

Lack of condom use may also be attributed to lack of sex education. While many schools across the nation provide sex education classes, many do not discuss various contraceptive methods and the life altering effects of STDs. Circulating throughout the STD awareness community is the “Get Yourself Tested” campaign, which is a social movement empowering young individuals to get tested and treated for STDs and HIV. The campaign raises awareness, educates and provides resources for college students by linking them with testing services and centers across the country.

Each year the health clinic at William Jewell College offers free health testing. They also have free contraceptives such as condoms and spermicides.

STDs are a real threat to the health of college students and young individuals. The only real way to protect yourself is abstinence. However, if you are engaging in sexual activity, contraception is monumentally important. STDs can permanently impact individuals’ health and well being for the rest of their lives.

While having conversations with a sexual partner about contraception may be uncomfortable, so are some of the side effects of STDs, such as open sores, blisters uncontrollable itching, painful urination, liver failure and a whole host of other symptoms. Ultimately, STDs are real and do pose threats to health, so protect yourself and others by using contraception methods.

Photo courtesy of David M. Phillips/Science Source, via Getty Images.

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