STD stats continue to spike – and with deadly consequences

The Chapman Student Health center offers free condoms to help students make safer sex choices. Photo courtesy of Karina Cardenas.

Despite a stunning rise in sexually transmitted diseases, many Chapman students are not taking the necessary precautions to prevent them.

The California Department of Public Health announced this year that the state was grappling with a roaring STD epidemic, with people less than 25 years old contracting 54 percent of all new chlamydia infections and 33 percent of all new gonorrhea cases. Syphilis had skyrocketed, with a 600 percent jump in the number of women diagnosed with the disease between 2012 and 2017.

One in four adolescent females has an STD, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts, and, in some cases, various cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, most Chapman students discount their risk.

“I usually wear condoms. Sometimes in the spur of the moment, I forget,” said J.L, a senior business major, who asked that only his initials be used for privacy reasons. “I haven’t gotten tested since last year.”

“I’ve honestly never gotten an STD check,” said Lieu Madayag, a sophomore political science major, Madayag said this is because she has only had sex with one person, whom she trusts and has been with for two years.

A., a senior psychology major with HPV, said she has no idea how she contracted the virus.

One in four adolescent females has an STD, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts, and, in some cases, various cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Photo courtesy of Karina Cardenas.

“[I didn’t always use a condom] my sophomore year, which now haunts me because I have to take medicine still to this day, two years later,” said A, who prefers to go by her first initial for privacy reasons. While HPV is usually burned or frozen off, A said she uses a gel for whenever her genital warts reappear.

While men also face risks, women have the potential to wind up with pelvic inflammatory disease, fertility problems, and may even be at a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, according to the CDC.

Their children may also face risks.

Last year, there were 283 congenital syphilis cases, including 30 stillbirths, in California, an increase of 32 percent over 2016, according to the CDPH.

Chapman Health Center Director Jacqueline Deats estimates the Center receives about 600 inquiries a year about STD screenings. She declined to release statistics concerning test results.

Each student following up with an examination will shell out roughly $50 for the test, but the price may rise, depending on the type and number of tests administered.

The Health Center offers a four-panel screening for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. Once a student receives a positive diagnosis, the process is far less cut and dried.

The health center will offer medication and services for less serious infections, but more serious cases are referred to specialists or third-party practices, Deats explained.

New mutated strains of gonorrhea, resistant to antibiotics or mainstream medications, are a special concern, as they can prove deadly, noted Deats.  

Yet, some students continue to see STDs as no big deal.

“I make sure who I sleep with is clean, I ask them and trust them. If I got an STD, I’d be fine, it’s not the end of the world [because] there is medicine,” said Adam, a senior broadcast major, who prefers to go by his first name only.

A 2016 study revealed 42 percent of 3,953 adolescents and young adults who had sex and did not get tested assumed they were not at risk for an infection according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.  

Dani Smith, Director of P.E.E.R. (Proactive Education Encouraging Responsibility) and Health Education at Chapman, said a feeling of invincibility is common in young people.

“This feeling or thought that nothing will happen to them,  or that they are somehow immune, is one of the reasons why college students engage in high-risk behaviors,” Smith said.

A. found out the hard way she was not invincible.

I know HPV doesn’t define me as a person,” she acknowledged, “but it completely destroyed me.”

Marcella Zizzo and Karina Cardenas

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