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Health officials: STD testing is key

By Kim Walter

Shenandoah University and the Lord Fairfax Health District are teaming up to support April as Sexually Transmitted Diseases Awareness Month.

About three or four times a year, SU's Wilkins Wellness Center offers free and confidential STD testing. In conjunction with April being a month to spread awareness, Ron Stickley, director of health services, said this is the perfect time.

"We try to offer the free screenings throughout the year, usually when school starts and after long holiday breaks," Stickley said Wednesday. "The one this month gives us just enough time after spring break to reach out to students."

Stickley said he does as much as he can around campus to educate students on the importance of sexual health, through lectures, screenings and emails.

"I always tell the students that my biggest concern is their health," he said. "STDs can affect someone without them knowing it, and in turn they can pass it on. I hope that if a student enters into a relationship with "the one," they'll know that they're safe."

Offering the screenings free of charge helps to appeal to a college student's budget, he added. Plus if a disease is detected early on, larger expenses and possible missed classes can be avoided.

The free and confidential screening, which most likely will be held toward the end of the month, is a simple urine test. Stickley said it would normally cost around $150, and it would show up on a person's medical record.

"We keep it completely confidential," he said. Only the organization doing the testing and the student will know the results - Stickley will see results, but not the identity attached to them.

Stickley added that students seem to be more open to the idea of testing, without the fear of judgment or embarrassment. He said he gets several calls a week, throughout the school year, from students who want to know where they can get tested for a variety of STDs and HIV.

"The health department has been such a help, because there will always be students who can't make it in during the time that we offer the free screenings," he said. "They will work with you on setting up an appointment."

He said going to the clinic outside of campus may be more appealing for students who don't want anyone to see them entering the facility to get tested. Additionally, health professionals strive to give a more personal touch to students so they feel comfortable addressing any concerns they might have about their sexual health.

Dr. Charles Devine, director of the Health District, said that according to recent data, the number of reported chlamydia cases in the area is on the rise.

"Chlamydia is a good measuring stick when looking for trends in STD cases because it's more common than other diseases," he said. "For HIV, our district might see eight new cases a year, compared to more than 500 chlamydia cases."

Devine said the key is finding people with an STD and treating it before it can be unknowingly spread to someone else. If that isn't done, the numbers will continue to rise.

Even if a person might not notice symptoms of an STD, Devine said that person could still have something just from engaging in sexual activity. He said the risk of getting an STD and not knowing it goes up when a person can't contact his or her sexual partner in the future to learn that person's history.

But college students aren't the only ones who should be screened, he added.

"There are an increased number of baby boomers being diagnosed with STDs," he said. Research also suggests that a young person who gets gonorrhea or Chlamydia has a 25 percent less chance of getting pregnant.

While the obvious quick fix would be to abstain from sexual activity or use protection, Devine said he knows that it "isn't always so easy."

"For the Health District, I believe it is appropriate and proper to make diagnosis and treatment easily available," he said. "We just want folks who are engaging in sexual activity to recognize that there are risks, but there are also solutions on the prevention and treatment side."

To learn more about STD testing or to schedule an appointment with the Health District, call 540-722-3470.
For information on screenings at Shenandoah University, call 540-665-4530, or send an email to rstickle3@su.edu.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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