By Ryan Mcfadden
Assistant News Editor
Infectious diseases spread during unsafe sex are concealed with stigma and growing in number.
A 2016 surveillance report reveals STDs at a record high, “threatening the health of millions of Americans,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
East Stroudsburg University now offers free testing, treatment and education for this growing threat 12 hours a day, seven days a week at ESU’s new student health center, ExpressCARE.
“We do see quite a few people, every day (for STD testing), which is good because we want them to come in,” said Donna Surjnarine, Nurse Practitioner at ESU’s student health services, “We have a grant through MFHS, which is Maternal Family Health Services, that gives us money in order to be able to offer the students free STD testing, free pregnancy testing, treatment for STDs and UTIs, emergency contraceptives, things like that, which is great.”
Since the start of this fall semester, 146 ESU students have taken the free STD test while 14 of them tested positive for either gonorrhea or chlamydia, according to ESU student health services.
“Once we got the MFHS grant, the number of people going in for testing shot up,” said Pat Arncel, RN at the ExpressCARE center.
The rising number of ESU students getting tested this year mirrors the nationwide rise in STD rates over the same period of time.
According to the CDC, a record high of more than two million cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis were diagnosed in 2016. The CDC estimates more than 20 million infections occur annually.
During the fall semester of 2016, 225 ESU students took the free STD test while 425 students sought testing in the spring semester of 2017, according to ESU student health services.
Each year, a new wave of students begin life at ESU. They arrive from a wide range of high schools, each with varying amounts of sex education.
This difference in knowledge amid students forces sex education at ESU to start from scratch.
“A lot of times people are unsure of what constitutes sex, which requires education,” said Surjnarine, “because they think if they can’t get pregnant, then it’s not sex.”
These serious misconceptions reinforce the necessity for ESU to provide effective sexual health education to its students, and to make treatment readily available.
“[The nurse] asks them if they were exposed, if they were exposed to an STD we treat them right then and there,” said Surjnarine, “if they are just coming in for regular testing, then they fill out their paperwork for MFHS, they give us a urine sample, and then we call them when we get their results.”
The confidentiality of every student is valued during the testing process. Students can call 272-762-4378 and set up an appointment for early as five minutes in advance.
All that is needed is your ecard, you must also fill out the MFHS paperwork at the clinic.Students will receive their results about one week later. The whole process is confidential with only one nurse being aware of your reasoning for coming to the clinic, and the results of the test.
Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are concealed with a stigma that keeps their reality buried in shame.
“The stigma that is attached to having a STD can be really horrible. So many people have these preconceived notions about people who have or have had STDs. The fact is that many people get them, especially on college campuses. If people would talk more openly about these issues, I think they wouldn’t be spread as easily as they are now,” said senior Samantha Werkheiser.
Laura Suits, ESU Wellness Education and Prevention interim coordinator, described why the shameful stigma should be broken, and how the true face of these infectious diseases could be unmasked.
“It’s just like another disease — it happens sexually — ok get over it,” said Suits, “I think just getting the words out there, that it happens, and you figure out how to treat it, or cure it, and you move on.” The prevention of STDs and STIs is the number one goal for everyone.
“Preventions always better than after the fact treatment in my mind,” said Doreen Tobin, vice president of student affairs, “it’s really important that a person also take responsibility for their (own) health and well-being, that’s entering into a healthy relationship and engaging in the appropriate safeguards.”
ESU provides the appropriate safeguards thanks in part to grant money awarded to the college. Laura Suits wrote the Condom Gram grant and described the mission of ESU Wellness Education and Prevention, writing over email, “My office does awareness and provides condoms and dental dams for free.
Also, we are sending condoms or dental dams in the mail to students who request.”ESU students can order their own Condom Gram by going to http://baseline.campuslabs.com/esu/condomgramESU students can set up an appointment at ExpressCARE by calling 272-762-4378. The bottom line is don’t stress it get tested.
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