Student Health Services officials said they are concerned about an increase in reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases among undergraduate students. Cases of STDs reported to Student Health Services are up from single digit totals in the mid-90’s to 10 in 2001.
While Student Health Director Isabel Goldenberg said the office has seen nine cases since January, she expects the number of reported STDs to eclipse last year’s mark.
Student Health saw as many as 75 cases in 1987 before educational safe sex campaigns began in response to AIDS and other STDs.
As students became more educated about the dangers of unprotected sex, Goldenberg said, the numbers hit a negligible level by the mid-90s.
Reported cases of chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis are again on the rise, but Goldenberg said Student Health’s numbers are not comprehensive because some students are never tested and GW does not account for students tested at other D.C. clinics.
Health Services Outreach Coordinator Susan Haney said the number of cases at GW does not exceed those of other colleges. She said the slight increase in reports of STDs on campus has led health officials to launch an ever more aggressive campaign to promote awareness of the dangers posed by STD’s.
New York, American, Boston and Georgetown universities would not release STD numbers, citing privacy concerns.
Outreach Program officials said that a rise in reported STDs might be a result of growing student complacency about the dangers of unprotected sex.
“People might be desensitized to STDs,” said Sara Holmes, assistant coordinator for the Outreach Program. “In light of this, we have to keep on reiterating the message that STDs are still as dangerous as ever.”
Goldenberg said the increase in AIDS drugs and less media attention has led to less interest and awareness about other STDs.
Holmes said drugs and alcohol could lead a person to make unsafe choices, thereby increasing that person’s chances of acquiring an STD.
Student Health’s Outreach Program seeks to educate GW students about the dangers of STDs, setting up information sessions and workshops in resident halls and organizing campus-wide events, like those on World AIDS Day.
Although GW students are aware of the dangers of unsafe sex, many said they still take risks.
“I’d like to say that I’ve been cautious, but I haven’t and that scares me,” senior Addison Straw said. “But I’ve been tested, so I feel better about it.”
Others have expressed the concern that residence hall life might be conducive to the spread of STDs.
“My chances of getting an STD are increased since dorms have a reputation for promiscuity,” freshman Danny Sosa said. “Even though college is a time for experimentation, I’m still careful.”
Community Facilitators said they are responding to the threat of STD’s by providing condoms to residents.
Junior Tyler Jason Neyhart, a CF in Thurston Hall, has an
emergency condom supply box to ensure that his residents are practicing safe sex.
“The condom box – it’s there for a reason. My residents are sexually active and I realize that. And I realize that they might not always be prepared,” Neyhart said. “The box provides them with a means. The box is there to make sure no one’s ever in a situation where they can’t practice safe sex.”
Student Heath Services, located in the Ambulatory Center of The George Washington University Hospital, does confidential STD testing for $60 and confidential HIV testing for $40. If tests yield a positive result, parents are not notified. Both tests are additionally accompanied by a $12 charge, which are waived if a student is insured through Chickering, Student Health’s insurance provider.
The Whitman Walker Clinic – located at 14 and S streets – is a health clinic which conducts free, anonymous HIV testing and STD testing for $10. Established by the lesbian and gay community, the organization serves the D.C. metropolitan area conducting tests without prior consultation. Planned Parenthood, at 1108 16 St., offers STD testing and health services and offers sliding-scale payment, where a patient pays as much as they can, if necessary.
Students said they are split over where to get tested because of a debate between reliability and cost.
“If I was to go get tested, I’d go to Student Health Services because I feel that they probably have more experience dealing with college kids,” freshman Andrew Darcey said. “Even if it was more expensive then other places, I’d still go.”
Other students would opt to go outside GW, citing privacy concerns.
“I wouldn’t go to GW to get tested; I’d be afraid that other people might find out,” freshman Marcie Klhenak said.
Students are urged both to practice safe sex and to get tested on a regular basis for STDs. The prevalence of contraception and STD testing sites should facilitate this urge.
“You should always be safe,” said Neyhart. “But if you’re ever in doubt, go somewhere and get tested. Those institutions are there for a reason – they’re there to help.”