News

STD-tistically speaking, KU is OK

Sometime during the 90s, KU had generated a rumor that pegged it as having a high sexually transmitted infection (STI) rate. As with any myth or urban legend, it can be difficult to track where a rumor started.
A former KU Connections facilitator set up a Facebook page in 2007 titled “For God’s sake, KU does not have the highest STD rate!!!” The post says the rumor started after a survey was given to all 14 of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) state-owned universities, but KU was the only one to respond. When a commercial campaign was launched about STD awareness, all the students in the ads had KU logos on their clothes.
In 2009—the year with the most recent data available, which includes spring and fall semesters—82 students walked into the Health and Wellness Center at KU to be tested for two of the most commonly contracted STIs: gonorrhea and chlamydia. Of those cases, only one tested positive for gonorrhea and three for chlamydia.
2009 Kutztown University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: 10,634
(Percentages are of total population)

Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year.
Chlamydia 3 cases 0.028%
Gonorrhea 1 case 0.0094%
(Table 1)
Compared to the national averages, these rates are low.

2009 National STI Statistics 2009 Population: 305 million
(Percentages are of total population)
Chlamydia 1,244,180 cases 0.41%
Gonorrhea 301,174 cases 0.0987%
Primary and Secondary Syphilis 13,997 cases 0.0045%
Total 1,559,351 cases 0.51%
(Table 2: Refer back to this table to see how other rates compare to the national average. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the national statistics.)
No other STI cases were reported at KU that year. Syphilis, herpes and all other STIs are not tested for there. If a student is suspected to have something other than gonorrhea or chlamydia, he or she is referred to another facility.

Assistant Director of Health Services William Lendzinski said that being a part of the Center for Disease Detection (CDD) is the cheapest way for the health center to treat students, but Account Manager Barbara Castro said, “CDD does not share client information,” and refused to confirm whether Lendzinski’s statement is true.
STI testing is done on an appointment-only basis at KU. A $10 testing fee gets billed anonymously to the student’s account, which means parents cannot see the reason for their son’s or daughter’s visit, and if results come back positive for anything, treatment is given for free.
Also along the lines of confidentiality, students cannot be forced to give the names of their sex partners to health officials. “If they give us a contact person, a lot of times the state will contact them,” Lendzinski said. “…We try to get them to ask the other person to come in. I do get follow-up calls from the state to make sure that we treated that student.”
Not all PASSHE schools follow the same procedures to handle STIs. Lendzinski said health information for collages is not benchmarked in any sort of network, so schools cannot access each other’s STI information.
Communications Coordinator Rachel Mack at American College Health Association (ACHA) said in an email, “We have [STI] data at http://www.acha-ncha.org, but we cannot share results from specific schools.”

Seven PASSHE schools, including KU, released their 2009 STI records to The Keystone.

2009 Clarion University STI Statistics 2009 Population: 7,391

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 6 cases 0.081%
Herpes 1 4 cases 0.0541%
Herpes 2 1 case 0.0135%
Gonorrhea 0 cases 0%
(Table 3)

2009 East Stroudsburg University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: 7,576

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 8 cases
(141 tested) 0.1056%
Gonorrhea 0 cases 0%
(Table 4)

2009 Indiana University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: 14,638

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 52 cases
(309 females tested and 154 males tested)
(31 females and 21 male) 0.355%
Gonorrhea 8 cases
(336 females tested and 171 males tested)
(4 females and 4 males) 0.0546%
Syphilis 1 case
(222 females tested and 139 males tested)
(1 female) 0.0068%
(Table 5)

2009 Mansfield University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: around 3,569

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 2 cases
(7 tested)
(1 female and 1 male) 0.056%
(Table 6)

2009 Millersville University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: around 8,427

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 30 cases 0.356%
Gonorrhea 3 cases 0.0356%
(Table 7)

2009 Slippery Rock University STI Statistics Fall 2009 Population: 8,648

(Although the population is for the fall semester, the number of cases is from the entire year. This considers the total number of students enrolled at a given time.)
Chlamydia 24 cases
(454 tested) (15 female and 9 male) 0.278%
Gonorrhea 3 cases
(452 tested) (2 female and 1 male) 0.035%
Syphilis 0 cases 0%
HPV 7 cases 0.0809%
Herpes 6 cases 0.0693%
(Table 8)
Edninboro University and West Chester University are the only two PASSHE schools that refused to release their STI records; whereas, others had no records at all.

Outsourcing medical services, referring primarily to those dealing with STIs in this instance, is a common practice for several PASSHE schools. Mansfield University, for example, outsources all STI cases except for chlamydia to other health clinics, according to Nurse Lori Perry.

The remaining four PASSHE schools (Bloomsburg University, California University, Cheyney University and Shippensburg University) outsource all STI cases and have no records of them on file. If a student comes in to be tested for an STI, he or she will be sent to a family health clinic, Planned Parenthood, family planning or some other local health facility. Wherever a student is tested, however, the facility must report a positive result to the state, which also then gets reported at the city, county and national levels.

A look into STIs in the counties of each PASSHE school

To give an idea of what STI rates are like in each PASSHE school’s area, statistics at the county level are the best available references because those at the city level are too geographically focused and do not account for students who commute from other nearby towns and cities. None of the counties have a higher rate than the national’s in 2009.

2009 STI cases for each county of each PASSHE school Primary and secondary syphilis Chlamydia Gonorrhea Total Percent of county’s population with STIs
(Table 9)
Columbia County (Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania) 1 104 12 117 0.1805% of 64,837
Washington County (California University of Pennsylvania)
2 364 40 406 0.1971% of 206,037

Clarion County (Clarion University of Pennsylvania)
1 61 1 63 0.158% of 39,857

Delaware County (Cheyney University of Pennsylvania)
22 2,111 486 2,619 0.4718% of 555,018

Erie County (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania)
1 1,089 229 1,319 0.4715% of 279,721

Monroe County (East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania)
3 257 18 278 0.16958% of 163,925

Indiana County (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
0 166 26 192 0.219% of 87,629

Berks County (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania) 6 1,169 109 1,284 0.3198% of 401,488
Clinton County (Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania)
0 60 2 62 0.167% of 37,063

Tioga County (Mansfield University of Pennsylvania)
0 39 1 40 0.0979% of
40,828
Lancaster County (Millersville University of Pennsylvania)
11 1,097 327 1,435 0.2876% of 498,918
Cumberland County (Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania)
3 341 82 426 0.1869% of 227,858

Butler County (Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania)
1 183 22 206 0.1128% of
182,519
Chester County (West Chester University of Pennsylvania)
6 739 103 848 0.174% of 486,301

(Table 9: The PA State Health Department provided all county and city STI statistics.)
Another version of the rumor
“It was my understanding that the survey [that started the rumor] was done of Berks County colleges, not the 14 state-system schools,” KU Graduate Admissions Coordinator Lisa Grabowski said. “Obviously as the largest of any of the Berks colleges, we were targeted.”
KU is one of five colleges in Berks County. STI rates for the other four colleges could not be obtained.

Reading Area Community College has no health center. If a student has a health issue, he or she goes to a local health facility.
The health center at Penn State Berks would not release any of its STI records without first going through university relations, which didn’t return messages to The Keystone.
Alvernia University is a private Catholic school, and because private colleges and universities have more control over what information of theirs is released to the public, Director of Health Services Claire Murphy, MD refused to provide any STI records.
Director of Health Samantha Wesner at Albright University said all STI cases are reported to the state health department, but is in no way obligated to release STI cases to the media.
Because STIs carry such a negative connotation, many colleges and college-affiliated institutions guard the information about them. The reason most commonly given for not releasing information was the right to client confidentiality. Many hold a steadfast position that their only obligation for reporting STIs is to the state, not to the public or the media, as seen with the CDD, Albright University in Berks County and two of the PASSHE schools, Eninboro University and West Chester University.
2009 Berks County STI Statistics 2009 Population: 401,488
Chlamydia 1,169 cases 0.29%
Gonorrhea 109 cases 0.027%
Syphilis 6 cases 0.0015%
Total 1,284 cases 0.3198%
(Table 10)
Feeding the rumor
The Connections facilitator’s Facebook page also points to the location of KU as a factor that has kept the rumor going: “The rumor also, however, continues to grow because KU is right between Reading and Allentown,” which do have above average STI rates.
2009 Allentown STI Statistics 2009 Population: 107,225
Chlamydia 894 cases
(647 female and 247 male) 0.83%
Gonorrhea 154 cases
(76 female and 78 male) 0.14%

Syphilis 6 cases
(3 female and 3 male) 0.0056%
(Table 11)

2009 Reading STI Statistics 2009 Population: 80,845
Chlamydia 865 cases
(659 female and 206 male) 1.06%
Gonorrhea 83 cases
(57 female and 26 male) 0.102%
Syphilis 3 cases
(0 female and 3 male) 0.0037%
(Table 12)

Although around 10 percent of the student body in fall 2009 was made up of people from these two cities (520 from Reading and 517 from Allentown), no conclusion can be drawn about whether it contributed to the STI rate without knowing where the four students were from who tested positive, which is information the health center does not release.
“Simply put, this is a rumor most likely generated from an issue in Berks County back in the 1990s,” KU Director of University Relations Matt Santos said in an email. “…The fact is there is no clear, accurate information that would support this rumor.”
The issue Santos referred to is in a newsletter on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website called “Notification of Syringe-Sharing and Sex Partners of HIV-Infected Persons – Pennsylvania, 1993-1994.” A man incarcerated in a Berks County prison—the newsletter does not say what city he is from—requested testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) antibody. When results came back positive, he provided contact information for four individuals with whom he had shared syringes to inject drugs before his incarceration. Partner notification follow-up of the four partners, their partners and their partners’ partners revealed a social network of 124 persons linked by syringe-sharing and/or sex.
The director of the Health and Wellness Center at KU, Dolores Hess, discussed the rumor at the clinical staff meeting on Friday Oct. 28, but no other staff members were able to corroborate its origin.
The Internet: a rumor’s home
It remains a rumor, one with no discernible facts to support it. The gossip wheel, however, had created enough friction to set sparks to information of which the source is unknown, possibly from a survey or an article on HIV, and after the smoke cleared, the Internet gave the rumor refuge on forums and Facebook pages. Punch in a few keywords into Google and several hits show posts by both those who dismiss the rumor and its information and those who perpetuate it.
“The std thing is the biggest rumor ever,” ResisTm3 posted in March 2007 on a forum on http://www.tristatetuners.com, “and gets pretty annoying when people keep saying it when they have no idea what they are talking about.”

“Ya kutztown defenitly [Stet] has a lot of good parties and one of the highest rate of stds,” another post later that month by someone called Cxrock16 reads.

There is little surprise as to which kind of posts there are more of on the Internet, given the nature of the way scandalous information tends to spread. Cxrock16, for instance, didn’t even acknowledge the post refuting the rumor and went on to write in the misinformation he had gotten from who-knows-where.
ACHA-NCHA suggests college students practice unsafe sex
In Lendzinski’s experience as a registered nurse for 21 years, he found that people who are educated tend to take better care of their health than those who are not. An ACHA-NCHA survey, however, shows a different trend when it comes to sex and contracting STIs.
In 2009, it surveyed 34,208 students from 57 college institutions and found that 1.1 percent (342 total: 106 male and 236 female) had chlamydia, 0.4 percent (101 total: 52 male and 49 female) had gonorrhea, 1.7 percent (542 total: 95 male and 447 female) had genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts, 0.5 percent (150 total: 81 male and 69 female) had hepatitis B or C and 0.3 percent (49 total: 44 male and 45 female) had HIV.

The ACHA-NCHA survey shows higher rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea across college campuses than what the national averages are that year. The results also show that Lendzinski’s notion of educated people taking better care of their health might have some validity: the above average numbers reported in the survey are of students who did in fact get themselves checked out. The difference between the trends seen with the educated and the uneducated doesn’t seem to be that they necessarily take better care, but that the former are more likely to address their health issues.

Need-to-know info about STIs

Although men and women are treated the same for STIs, their symptoms might be different. According to one of the pamphlets found on a rack in the self-care area of the KU health center, STIs can be asymptomatic during the initial onset, but can still be spread through sexual contact.
The majority of people infected with chlamydia, for instance, have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they usually appear within one to three weeks after exposure. Lendzinski said women showing symptoms often think they just have a urinary tract infection (UTI). The CDC recommends yearly chlamydia testing for all sexually active women age 25 or younger. Men with signs or symptoms might have a discharge from their penis or a burning sensation when urinating. They might also have burning and itching around the opening of the penis.
Women’s symptoms of gonorrhea are usually mild, if not asymptomatic, and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. The initial symptoms and signs in women include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding between periods.
Some men with gonorrhea might also not have symptoms. Signs or symptoms in men include a burning sensation when urinating or a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis. Sometimes men with gonorrhea get painful or swollen testicles. Signs or symptoms usually appear between one to fourteen days after the infection is contracted. More information on STIs can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/std/.
Free stuff for KU students to make their sex safe
Sex advice few students want to hear is to not have it, abstinence is the only sure thing and so on. For those at KU who dismiss this advice, a drawer located in the self-care area of the health center (the same place where the rack of pamphlets is located) is stocked daily with name brand latex condoms. Part of the fees students pay goes to buying these condoms. The state also provides a case every month, which contains around 500.
Some of the condoms are distributed during various events on campus, like the annual Health and Wellness Expo this past September in the Student Union Building, and proper condom use has also been demonstrated at tutorials on campus.

“We go through a lot,” Lendzinski said. “Condom use is huge here.”
Female condoms are also available, but, according to Lendzinski, are not taken nearly as often as male condoms. As a result, the inventory of female condoms is growing steadily at KU because the state provides almost as many of them as it does male ones.
The Women’s Center at KU provides free condoms (male and female) as well. An administrative professional at the Women’s Center, Mary Borst, said condoms need to be restocked weekly there. Informational pamphlets about STIs and referral information on where to get testing done are also available.

Because of the available health services, educational materials and preventive measures at KU, the few STI problems there are seem to be handled as well as the ones at any other college. The STI rates for 2009 at KU are not only lower than the national averages and lower than the rates on the ACHA-NCHA survey, but its rates are a quarter of what Kutztown (the town) has that year, and its population is double that of the town’s.

2009 Kutztown (the town) STI Statistics 2009 Population: 5,027
Chlamydia 16 cases
(8 female and 8 male) 0.32%
Gonorrhea
(0 female and 1 male) 1 case 0.0198%
Syphilis
(0 female and 1 male) 1 case 0.0198%
Total 18 cases 0.358%
(Table 13)
A total of four cases is hardly an issue among a student body of more than 10,000. Although numbers are what they are, it’s important to remember that they can also be tenuous. Not everyone knows he or she has an STI. Whether one is looking at a scale as small as KU or as large as the nation, only the reported cases are ever seen.

by Jake Seibel
originally published in the Nov. 10, 2011 issue of The Keystone

Categories: News

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