Sexually Transmitted Diseases Continue to Increase in College Aged Students

Jenna Kuczkowski

It is estimated that nearly half of all new STD cases occur in people aged 15 to 24 in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 annual report.

“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention said in a statement released earlier this year. “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”

During the 2015-2016 reporting period, the number of Americans diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis reached a record high for the second year in a row at more than 2 million cases reported. Although STDs had been on a downward trend starting in 2006, rates have been dramatically increasing nationwide since 2014, especially in college aged students.

The state of Ohio ranks in the top 10 range for both the 15-24 year old male and female categories of the prevalence of chlamydia and gonorrhea.

According to the CDC, chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. The infection can cause serious and permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. Gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat for both men and women. Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilitic chancre. Chancres occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum but can also occur on the lips and in the mouth.

All three STDs are curable, but if left untreated they can cause infertility or other serious health problems. The CDC said that because people don’t exhibit symptoms or may not notice them, they’re less likely to get tested and can still spread the disease to others.

A Kent State student recently went to get tested after his new girlfriend tested positive for chlamydia.

“Honestly, I was more than anything just shocked. I didn’t know exactly what chlamydia was so I freaked out,” said the anonymous student. “After I looked it up and found it was treatable I calmed down but it was almost like I had a realization that I needed to be more careful in the future.”

HIV is also on the rise in the United States and for 2015 the CDC estimated 39,393 people in the United States were diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 1 in 7 people with HIV in the United States do not know that they are infected. In 2015, an estimated 927 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in Ohio. Ohio ranked 13th among the 50 states in the number of HIV diagnoses in 2015.

HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system. This damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and other diseases.

“CDC uses its national-level intelligence to detect and respond to STD outbreaks while supporting the nation’s on-the-ground workers who are spending each day protecting communities from STDs,” Mermin said.

In Ohio, the department of health has developed an STD prevention program that it implements statewide in order to attempt to curb the infection rates in the state.

The program is comprised of five components; the first being surveillance. All cases of STDs are reported by laboratories and healthcare providers to local health departments. These reports help target resource use so that areas with the greatest need get the care they require.

The second component is screening, which the state does by offering routine testing for STDs to patients considered high-risk by local health departments or medical facilities. The third is treatment were medications are provided with no charge to eligible clinics that screen for STDs to provide treatment to clients who can’t afford medication.

The fourth part of the program is interviewing and case finding where the state provides assistance to local disease intervention specialists to give patients medical information and assist them through treatment. Finally, the fifth part is prevention and education which provides local agencies with educational materials, condoms, program and treatment guidelines and other assistance requested.

The continuing increase of STD rates is attributed by the CDC to a decrease in condom usage, lack of education and awareness on STDs, the decrease of STD clinics, and increase of targeted screenings.

“I went to a clinic in Akron and they were very courteous and helpful,” said the anonymous student. “They answered all my questions and were very professional which helped a lot.”

Prior to the visit, the student said he was worried about not being able to pay and the potential of the clinic disclosing information to his parents.

The increased prevalence of STDs in adolescent populations may also be due to issues accessing STD prevention and management services. The CDC reports that such barriers can include adolescents inability to pay for care, clinic hours that don’t offer flexibility to accommodate hectic work and school schedules, and social stigmas.