Protect yourself: Get tested

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated April as Sexually Transmitted Disease awareness month. In partnership with MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the 2009 “Get Yourself Tested” campaign encourages sexually active young people to talk with their partners about being tested. Because most sexually transmitted diseases have no symptoms, many people who are infected have no idea they are, and a test is the only way to find out and treat it.

Of course, abstinence is the ultimate preventative measure, but statistically speaking, it is completely unrealistic, especially for college-age students. The CDC estimates that there are more than 19 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States, and half of them occur in youth ages 15 to 24.

Although STDs can infect both men and women, women are more severely affected. A March 2008, CDC study by Sherry L. Farr estimated one in every four young American women ages 14 to 19 has been infected with at least one of the most common STDs. That’s more than 3.2 million teenagers.

According to a 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the two most common STDs among teenage girls are human papilloma virus, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer, and chlamydia, which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
HPV has become so prevalent the CDC estimates that 80 percent of American women will be exposed to it by the age 50. Because it’s a viral disease, it cannot be cured, but it can be prevented. Girls age 9 to women age 26 can receive the vaccination Gardasil that is claimed to be 95 to 100 percent effective at preventing infections from four of the major subtypes of HPV. Gardasil defends against the two subtypes that cause 90 percent of genital warts, and the two that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers found in American women.

Chlamydia is a bacterial disease that often produces no symptoms, but if left untreated, can cause horrible future complications for women, including infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Avert, an international AIDS charity organization, states on its Web site that chlamydia cases have increased 41 percent over a 10-year period, from reporting 537,904 cases in 1997 to 1,108,374 in 2007. Also in 2007, the rate of chlamydia infection was three times higher for women than men.

It’s horrifying to realize that in an era when everyone should be aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, the numbers of STD infections are growing. As a parent, I understand the difficult nature of discussing sexual topics with my children, but that’s the only way I can be assured that they are prepared to make the decision of whether or not to be sexually active.

Youth need to understand there are lifelong consequences that come along with having sex and that latex condoms are the only guarantee they won’t be affected. Even if they love that person, if it’s their first time or they only have one partner, STDs still spread. If you are having unprotected sex, odds are that you have had or will have an STD and your life will be changed forever.

Going to college is about learning, being open to others’ ideas and thoughts so you can be a smarter, happier person. If you’re having sex, don’t wait to get tested8212;do it now. Then make a commitment to either abstain or protect yourself by using condoms. It’s the smartest thing you could do for your future health.

The U’s Student Health Center offers anyone free HIV testing between 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month and $10 for the other Tuesdays. They also offer students STD testing and counseling with health care providers during the same time for $42.

[email protected]

Alicia Williams