STI checks and prevention are necessary

by Kate Paulman

By the age of 24, one in three sexually active people will have contracted a sexually transmitted infection, according to Planned Parenthood. Using this information and assuming that all 1,344 of full-time Simpson students are sexually active, there are 448 possible STI carriers on campus.

This high percentage can be explained by several factors, lack of education, cost and what Campus Nurse Michelle Cross refers to as the “embarrassment factor.”

“They’re upset and embarrassed,” Cross said. “I’d probably be a last resort. But if someone does come and talk to me, it’s completely confidential. I’m not going to tell Mom or anything. You’re an adult. I’m not judgmental and I can’t say anything about what we would talk about to anyone.”

Students who do go to the nurse with questions about STIs can receive information from Planned Parenthood and a slip to see a doctor in town. While the cost of the doctor visit is covered by the school if a slip is used, costly tests that are often involved with STI testing are not covered by the college.

“I’ve had students just come in and pick up a slip and go to the doctor,” Cross said. “If they go to the clinic, the doctor visit is covered by a contract but the tests aren’t. The tests can be expensive.”

However, Cross doesn’t tell students to avoid doctors.

“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get help,” Cross said. “You just need to understand that the lab tests could cost a couple hundred dollars.”

Cross usually recommends that students go to Planned Parenthood for testing.

“It’s really easy to schedule appointments, you can get in within the week or the day if you call ahead,” said Boua Cam, center manager of the Indianola, Newton and Knoxville Planned Parenthood centers. “It’s recommended that you get tested if you have had a new partner within the last six months.”

A low-income student may qualify for low or no-cost services at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. At a PPGI center, the most common STI tests cost $70-80 and a discount is given on a sliding scale based on income.

“Since most students don’t have a full-time job, they will qualify for a discount,” Cam said. “It depends on what services we do. We recommend that girls get a pap smear at the same time so they can qualify for the biggest discount.”

Discounts can range from 35-100 percent. Students don’t even have to pay the full amount at the time of treatment. There are payment plans where students can pay $5-10 a month.

Many high school students do not talk with health care providers about STI prevention, according to a 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This leads to continued ignorance during higher education. The study concluded that “a greater effort is need to encourage health care providers to talk with teenage patients about STI and pregnancy prevention.

Cam said that some teens are reluctant to get tested because they are afraid of others finding out.

“I want to emphasize that it is very confidential,” Boua said. “Even if Mom or your partner was to call, we could not give out any patient information. It would have to be OK’d from the patient if anyone was going to find out.”

Students should not over-react until they have been tested, Cam said. However, if symptoms of an STI, especially if indicative symptoms of Human Papilloma virus (Genital Warts) or Herpes, are present, testing should be done as soon as possible. Men can be tested for these same infections at Planned Parenthood, Cam said.

“Chlamydia and Gonorrhea tests are done with regular exams for females,” Cam said. “We don’t want to wait until after an outbreak and be able to tell someone they have those diseases. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you should still get checked if you have a new sexual partner.”

Cam emphasized smart choices as the best form of staying healthy.

“Most of the time the best remedy is to live a healthy lifestyle,” Cam said. “Eat healthy, exercise and use a condom, of course.”

At Simpson, prevention comes in the form of free condoms outside the nurse’s door and in Resident Assistant’s first aid kits.

“Anybody can come get them anytime they want,” Cross said. “I don’t write down who takes them or anything…you can pick them up anytime Student Development is open. After that, the RAs can give them to you anytime.”

According to Cross, the most important issue is that students seek medical attention if they have any concerns.

“It can be serious,” Cross said. “If you know you have a problem it might not bother you so much now but down the road it can be very serious. In five or ten years you might want to have children and an infection now can lead to infertility later. When you want to start a family you don’t want something like not getting treatment now stand in your way.”

“We’re right across the street,” Cam said. “We’d like to see more students come in, get tested and just be aware of the potential problems.”