STI Rates On The Rise, NEIU’s Student Health Services Offers Free STI/HIV Testing

Amaris E. Rodriguez, Opinions Editor

2.3 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017, setting a new record that was previously also broken in 2016.

While we are on a college campus, sex is not a topic that I hear discussed a lot, especially sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), STI rates have increased 31 percent from 2013 to 2016.

As much as we would like to believe that we will never be the person who contracts an STI, the odds are against that. It is important, not only as college students but as human beings, that we take ownership and responsibility of our bodies and our health. This includes sexual health.

It starts with education. Growing up in a very conservative Christian household, I was never exposed to any form of sex education from my parents. This left me at the hands of my high school health teacher, who actually did a good job at informing students. However, this is not always the case.

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STI Directors, said in a NBC interview, “There is an extreme lack of awareness about STIs and sexual health. Doctors are not screening and testing for these (infections) and patients don’t know they need to ask to be tested.”

As a woman, it is not uncommon to feel shamed by others for talking about sex or STIs; however, with syphilis rates on the rise, it is more crucial to be open about our sexual health.

Syphilis can potentially have life-threatening side effects on a fetus if the woman were to get pregnant. If it is left untreated, syphilis, in both men and women, can lead to strokes, infertility and blindness.

Cathy Schacht, an advanced practice registered nurse at NEIU’s Student Health Services office, believes that STI screening is important every time someone gets a new sexual partner.

“Everyone should be tested once a year, or if they have a new sex partner, we encourage them to get tested,” Schacht said.

The Student Health Services offers free STI testing for registered students. While the office cannot test for all types of STIs, they are able to test for HIV, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Results are available within a couple of days and testing is always confidential. If needed, Student Health Services can offer prescriptions for treatment.

HIV positive patients will have to get a confirming test at an outside clinic and are offered out-of-campus resources. Patients who test positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia will be able to receive treatment directly.

Student Health Services can also provide partner treatment if a student tests positive. This allows a students sexual partner to receive a prescription for medication if they are not NEIU students.

Since the Trump administration proposed to cut the budget for STI and HIV/AIDS prevention, colleges have begun to also cut back on the health services provided to their students.

In 2017, Kentucky’s Morehead State University closed down their health clinic, eliminating many key positions including nurses due to lack of funds.

NEIU offering free testing and resources for students is a great benefit as STI rates are increasing in lower income communities; however it is not well-known on campus what exactly the Student Health Services office can offer.

“I feel like a lot of students don’t know what we do here,” Schacht said. “We do information tables throughout the school year. We go to the orientation sessions so I think we can stress it more during the session.

“Students get a lot of information during the orientation sessions but health services is probably not something that they are thinking about. Talking to other students and word of mouth on this campus seems to be a good way of getting information out,” Schacht said.

It is important to be responsible when it comes to sexual activity. Safe sex should always be practiced and be an open discussion with any sexual partner. Remember, it is your body, so it is your choice.

The Student Health Services office is located in Building E 051 and is open Mon. thru Fri. 8 am – 4 pm.