USF combats STD crisis with free screenings for students
In acknowledgment of STD Awareness Month and the growing rate of STD/STI diagnoses in America, USF Tampa’s Student Health Services are offering free screenings for students during the first week of April.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, rates for the three most common STIs in America (syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea) have exceeded last year’s statistics.
With younger generations having easier access to sexual experimentation through online services such as dating applications and social media, STDs among people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for half of the 20 million new diagnoses in the U.S. each year.
If left untreated, these common infections can lead to long-term physical and mental health consequences, financial instability and the stigmatization of those infected. But USF’s Student Health Service’s vision is to combat these issues with free wellness events and a wide range of medical, educational and counseling services.
But before knowing what USF’s Student Health Services will be providing free testing for and the reasons behind America’s growing public health crises, it’s best to understand the nomenclature between STDs and STIs.
In short, the two acronyms are synonymous for one another. STDs are diseases contracted through sexual contact, but health experts have suggested replacing more common infections with the term STI (sexually transmitted infection).
The reason for this change is because a “disease” suggests a health problem with clear signs and symptoms. And with the majority of those infected by the most common of STDs, they do not exhibit clear signs or symptoms of infection. These infections are also less troublesome to treat than other major diseases such as HIV or herpes.
For instance, HIV is an incurable STD and needs constant medical treatment and care. Without it, the disease can lead to immunodeficiency syndrome, which is more commonly known as AIDS.
But, infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are curable with proper medical treatment and care. Since these infections are so common, health experts believe a name change to something less severe will destigmatize the issue.
Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in America with over 1.7 million new cases in 2017. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection curable with antibiotics and proper medical care. If left untreated, the infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
Gonorrhea is the second most common diagnosed STI in America with over 555,600 new cases in 2017. The infection is reported to be the most common case for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Originally, the infection was treated with personalized medical care and antibiotics. But, in the last decade, gonorrhea has grown resistant against antibiotics such as cefixime, which was the first line of defense against gonorrhea and was unrecommended by the CDC in 2012.
Current treatment for gonorrhea consists of an injection of ceftriaxone in combination with either azithromycin or doxycycline. If left untreated, the infection can lead to life-long pelvic pain and infertility.
In the last decade, syphilis was nearly eliminated. But the infection has reached over 30,600 new cases in 2017. The infection is curable with antibiotics and proper medical care. If left untreated, the infection can cause erosion of internal organs.
According to Planned Parenthood, one reason for the growing number of STD/STI cases is due to the gap between what is taught and what should be taught about sex education in schools. In reference to the CDC’s 16 recommended topics of sex education and responsibility, the curriculum for proper sex education among high schools and middle schools are at a staggering low.
Health officials in August 2018 stated the rise STDs were also largely contributed by annual cutbacks of state and local health departments who rely heavily on federal funding for their prevention programs.
One of the major reasons for the spread of STDs/STIs is due to the lack of symptoms exhibited in those infected. This makes infections easier to spread since those who are sexually active are unaware of their unchecked status.
But one fiscal issue is the cost bloodwork. For a patient without insurance, the average cost for an individual STD screening can range from $50 to $200. Because of USF’s partnership with Youth Education Services (Y.E.S.) and Dacco, Student Health Services is able to provide free monthly screenings for HIV and other STDs.
Y.E.S. and Dacco are local organizations based in Hillsborough and Polk County that provide sex education, testing and mental health awareness services. If testing is needed sooner, screening services are provided for minimal costs due to health fees required in university tuition payments.
“We try to keep costs low to make it more affordable for students as providing this service is part of our mission at the university,” said Dr. Anita Sahgal, Director of the Wellness Center and Student Disability Services at USF St. Pete.
Sexual responsibility is not just about practicing safe sex since condoms and birth control are not full-proof methods of disease prevention. Living a responsible and sexually active lifestyle means regular screenings and communication between partners if diagnosed in order to prevent further infection.
USF’s Get Yourself Tested week will provide free screenings for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV between April 1 to April 5. To make an appointment, call (813) 974-2331. For more information about STD Awareness Month, go to https://www.cdc.gov/std/sam/index.htm.
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