Student Health Services Rolls Out New, Simpler Testing Protocols for STDs and STIs | UB today
Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are on the rise among 18 to 24 year olds in the United States, a trend that has been building for several years. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported that rates of syphilis and gonorrhea infections were at their highest since the 1990s, while chlamydia hit an all-time high.
BU is seeing similar trends, says Hannah Landsberg (Sargent’12, SPH’13), associate director of student health services. “While chlamydia remains the most commonly diagnosed bacterial sexually transmitted infection among UB students, we saw a drop in the positivity rate for chlamydia and a slight increase in the positivity rate for gonorrhea and syphilis in the 2021-2022 academic year compared to previous years,” Landsberg said.
Then there is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual health. Experts predict that rates of STIs and STDs will likely rise further in 2020 and 2021 (yes, even with social distancing measures in place), but due to the myriad disruptions in testing and healthcare generals during the lockdown, it’s hard to say for sure.
These interruptions are worrying. Lower testing leads to lower diagnoses, and when left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious health problems, including blindness and infertility. Not to mention the increased spread in the community: as the last two years of the fight against COVID have demonstrated, one infection can quickly become two, three or four, and no one wants to catch it. this last week pivot date text.
That brings us to now: Student Health Services (SHS) just implemented new testing protocols for STIs and STDs. Previously, you had to schedule a prescreening appointment with an SHS provider, where they would determine the tests you needed, after which you would go to the lab at the SHS clinic to have testing at a later date. Now, instead of a screening appointment, you complete an online survey via Patient Connect. (The confidential covers things like sexual history, symptoms and demographic information, and what you would like to be tested for.) A provider will review and order the appropriate tests for you. You come to the lab when you can (walk-in) to do the tests, and in a few days your results will be available in Patient Connect.
“The main type of visit to our primary care clinic is STI testing,” Landsberg says, noting that SHS typically administers just over 3,200 STI and STD tests per academic year. “These protocols have been in the works for some time, but COVID-19 has really exacerbated the need for them – now more than ever we want people to get tested. The idea here is to make it easier for students and reduce barriers to testing.
STI and STD screening at SHS is free for students under BU’s health insurance scheme. SHS also offers treatment for STDs and STIs, including treatment for sexual partners of UB students, as part of the Massachusetts Accelerated Partner Therapy Initiative, and may anonymously inform one of your sex partners about your positive test result if you are unwilling or unable to do so. In terms of preventive care, SHS provides PrEP services, or pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV, in addition to offering the HPV vaccine Gardasil.
SHS isn’t the only safe sex resource available to BU students. Off campus, you can access STI and STD testing through Planned Parenthood, near West Campus, and Fenway Health, among other organizations. Additionally, students can access Condom Fairy, a program overseen by SHS Wellness & Prevention Services that provides free, anonymous safer sex supplies to students living on and off campus. BU’s Queer Activist Collective (“Q”) also offers safer sex supplies for LGBTQ people.
In the end, it doesn’t matter where you go or how you access safer sex testing or supplies. What’s important is to “actually use” the services available to you, Landsberg says, especially now that the world has started to open up post-lockdown.
“Tests, vaccines, condoms, honest conversations about sex, it’s all connected,” Landsberg says. “It’s similar to how we think about [stopping the spread of] COVID-19 with mask wearing, vaccines and public awareness. You need all of these things to have healthy relationships and healthy sex.
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