STIs: how to prevent, how to treat

What is an STI? 

An STI is a sexually transmitted infection, also referred to as a sexually transmitted disease. The top three most common STIs on college campuses are Human Papillomavirus , Chlamydia and HSV-2 Genital Herpes, according to physicianoneurgentcare.com.

University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Director of the Public Health Program Heidi Hancher-Rauch said most college students don’t know that many STIs are curable and all are treatable and/or manageable. It is also not widely known that most people with STIs experience no noticeable symptoms.

Students should get tested on an annual basis if they are sexually active, according to Rauch. The best way to prevent an STI is by using a condom 100 percent of the time, even when a person trusts their sexual partner, she said.

“Say [that] a person has been in a monogamous relationship, and they have been using condoms and other types of contraceptives and they feel for whatever reason, you are not really at risk for a sexually transmitted infection, I still recommend that students should get tested at least once a year if they’re sexually active,” Rauch said. “That doesn’t just mean penal-vaginal sex, it means really any form of sex, the students should be tested.”

STIs are very prevalent among college students, in fact, they have been on the rise the last couple of years, according to Rauch. Young adults, which are people between the ages of 15 to 24, only make up a quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the new diagnoses every year.

“That shows that they are more prone to contract a sexually transmitted infection because the risk of contracting an STI is linked to some of the other risk behaviors that is sometimes seen in college students,” Rauch said. “If people are drinking, they’re more likely to contract an STI when they participate in those kinds of behaviors.”

Graphic by Shylah Gibson

What are the options for someone who has been diagnosed with an STI? 

When it is a bacterial infection, the patient will receive an antibiotic. They need to make sure they follow the full course of antibiotics even if they feel better, according to Rauch. If it’s a viral STI, it can be treated with antivirals.

According to Rauch, students should not assume that because it’s herpes or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that they shouldn’t bother with treatment because they have very good treatments now, even for those viral STIs. Treatment has come a long way in the last five to 10 years and it’s very important to follow up with the health care provider and follow whatever treatment plan they recommend, according to Rauch.

“We [public health professionals] use the term ‘sexually transmitted infection’ often, but we’re talking about any type of virus, bacteria, that can be passed from individual to individual via sexual contact,” Rauch said. “And some are obviously more serious than others, so your bacteria: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, those can be treated with antibiotics, but then your viral ones can still be treated and absolutely should be treated.”

UIndy recently advertised free STI testing on campus. Rauch said she was glad the school finally began offering the service because of the safety and convenience reasons. Even though many students don’t think twice about contradicting an STI, they will never know they have one unless they get tested, according to Rauch.

“The fact that we have that [free STI testing] available here on campus now is awesome, and students should do it. They don’t know [if they have an STI],” Rauch said. “So many students think, ‘I’m not at risk’ and ‘I’ll be able to tell if somebody has an STI or and STD.’ You can’t.”