Chlamydia rates rise on campus

(SGA recently purchased 2,000 customized condoms for students. Photo courtesy of Bridget Green.)

SGA has co-sponsored initiatives with the Health Center and Residence Life to respond to the increased rate of reported cases of chlamydia on campus during the spring 2018 semester.

Of the 80 students who have visited the Health Center this semester for STI testing, 24 percent tested positive for chlamydia, according to Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center. In the fall semester, there were 5,997 students enrolled at Framingham State.

Six weeks into the spring 2018 semester, the number is already higher than previous semesters, said Hofrenning. In fall 2017, the rate was 16 percent of students tested. In spring 2017, the rate was 22 percent. In fall 2016, the rate was nine percent.

Hofrenning said, “Chlamydia, I think, is the most common bacterial infection, especially among young people – and that’s certainly the most common infection that we see here.”

Other reported cases of STIs on campus include “some herpes” and “occasionally gonorrhea,” according to Hofrenning.

Hofrenning added a lack of regular condom usage or STI testing from the Health Center are the greatest contributors to the transmission of STIs.

She said it is important that sexually active students talk to all of their partners about their sexual histories.

Hofrenning stressed it is also important to get tested for STIs because the symptoms of chlamydia are “invisible” – students will not know if they are infected because there are often no outward signs.

“The scary thing about chlamydia – and gonorrhea and HIV, as well – is that the most common symptom is no symptom,” Hofrenning said. “So, most of the time, when people come in, they’re not coming in because they have a discharge, or pain with sex, or bleeding after sex or burning with urination. They come in just to be tested.”

Hofrenning recommended all sexually active students get tested at least once a year – not only to check on personal health, but also to prevent the spread of STIs. Although chlamydia is easily treated, it can also spread quickly due to negligence, she said.

She also encouraged the proper use of condoms when engaging in sexual activity to decrease the chance of spreading and contracting STIs.

“When used appropriately, they are quite effective against things like chlamydia and gonorrhea,” Hofrenning said.

She added because herpes lesions are located externally on the skin – as opposed to the internal location of the chlamydia and gonorrhea bacteria – sometimes ,condoms do not provide adequate protection because they do not cover all the affected areas. This makes it possible for herpes to spread even with the use of a condom.

“Most students who come in here are certainly aware of condoms, know how to use condoms – but use condoms ‘sometimes’ or ‘most of the time.’ They don’t use them all the time.

“I think sometimes, they make assumptions that might be incorrect. They might make assumptions about someone like, ‘I don’t think they have chlamydia.’ You cannot make that assumption,” said Hofrenning. “Someone could have had sex with only one other person, but they still could have chlamydia.”

Hofrenning said even couples who have been together exclusively for a long period of time should not make the assumption that they can stop using barrier contraception, adding they should both get tested first before stopping.

She also said the improper usage of condoms can ultimately make them ineffective. Prolonged exposure to heat or cold – as well as storage in places that give way to friction – can impact the structural integrity of condoms.

Hofrenning added they also have to be worn correctly for them to be most efficient, which includes using the correct size and making sure there is a pocket of air on top.

“What we have tried to do is have a variety of condoms out there so people can choose,” she said, adding the condoms offered at the Health Center come in many varieties – such as latex-free and sensitive – and two different sizes – regular and large.

Bridget Green, SGA secretary, and Kyle Rosa, SGA president, are respectively coordinating with Residence Life and the Health Center to increase STI awareness and distribute the recently ordered 2,000 customized Ram-themed condoms.

Green said the issue was first brought to light by a concern submitted to SGA by a student.

In an email, she said, “Our president, Kyle, had reached out to them to ask for further information about it and a co-sponsorship was created once SGA saw a need for more awareness on campus!”

Green said a table is planned for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on March 7 outside the McCarthy Center, where members of SGA and Health Center SEALS will have the Ram-themed condoms available for students. They will also distribute educational materials provided by the Health Center that address how to look for warning signs of STIs and encourage students to get tested.

Hofrenning said she believes offering customized condoms will make it more likely that students will use them.

“It’s great that SGA is getting involved,” Hofrenning said. “They wanted to be part of the campaign to educate students to get tested and treated.”

Hofrenning added the Health Center “gives bags of condoms to RAs so they will have condoms available to their residents.”

Green said Residence Life has approved a bathroom flyer that will display specific statistics and promote greater understanding and awareness of STIs. She also said she has plans to work with area directors to set up tables in residence halls.

“I believe that the University is doing a good job of providing the materials on sexual health, but I believe the students are unaware of where they are or how to get them. It is also something that many students don’t like to discuss amongst others that aren’t their significant other or their friends,” said Green.

Hofrenning also talked about the discomfort that might arise among students when discussing sexual health and history.

“I think sometimes, it’s uncomfortable, you know, with a new partner – talking about using condoms and being tested,” she said.

Hofrenning said the Health Center is joining a campaign started by the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) called “Yes Means Test.” According to one of the flyers provided by ASHA, one in two sexually active people contracts an STI by age 25.

“If you’re going to be having sex with someone, you should both consider being tested to make sure that you don’t have an infection that you could pass to each other,” she said.

Although the Health Center provides testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes, it cannot provide HIV testing. Instead, it arranges for a nonprofit organization called Justice Resource Institute to come to campus every April and provide free screenings for HIV and any STI the Health Center does not test for, such as syphilis.

Hofrenning said the service – which does not require insurance – is also useful for students who do not want to come to the Health Center to get tested, as labs will bill their insurance companies and could be seen by parents.

She added, “What’s really important is the conversation about sexual activity – am I ready, are we both ready to have sex? If we are, how do we make sure that we’re safe?”

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