Between 2010 and 2012, the number of cases of chlamydia documented by the University of Richmond Student Health Center staff increased from three to 21.
Sarah Fisher, nursing supervisor at the Student Health Center, attributed this increase to a more affordable test for the sexually transmitted disease, which was made available in 2010, she said.
“I don’t think all of a sudden we have a huge problem,” Fisher said. “We are just learning about a big problem that was already there.”
In 2010, doctors and nurses at the Student Health Center performed 124 tests for chlamydia, and three yielded positive results. By 2012, 184 tests were performed, with 21 positive results. With the increased number of tests, Fisher wasn’t surprised to see the percentage of positive cases increase from 2 to 11 percent, she said.
“One hundred eighty-four tests is a drop in the bucket compared to the 3,500 students on campus,” Fisher said. “That 11 percent could represent a much larger number; we just aren’t doing enough testing.”
Previously, the least expensive test available to students was a swab test that was very uncomfortable, especially for men, Fisher said. A more comfortable urine test was also available, Fisher said, but its $200 cost was a deterrent for many students.
Urine-testing technology was made more affordable in 2010, which made the tests more accessible to students, Fisher said. When students found out that there was a less expensive, more comfortable test available, the Student Health Center staff saw a significant increase in the number of students coming in to be screened, Fisher said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also noted an increase in the number of reported cases of chlamydia on a national scale, which has been attributed to more screening. There were over a million cases of chlamydia reported in 2011, an 8 percent increase from 2010, according to information provided by the CDC.
Because some students don’t get tested at all, and some are tested somewhere besides the Student Health Center, nurses don’t have a full grasp on the prevalence of the disease on campus, Fisher said.
Fisher urges students to get tested because students who have chlamydia, a bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact, but don’t know they have it are continuing to spread it to other students.
One of the characteristics of chlamydia that makes it so prevalent is that the infected person often does not show any symptoms, Fisher said. If it goes untreated, chlamydia can cause serious health implications, including pelvic inflammatory disease in women and sterility in both men and women, which also may show no symptoms. Chlamydia can easily be treated and cured with antibiotics, once identified.
Doctors at the Student Health Center often see a small increase in the number of students requesting testing after Tracy Cassalia, campus health educator, concludes one of her wellness classes.
This increase probably occurs because Cassalia’s classes discuss the hookup culture and the dangers of STDs, Cassalia said, and she strongly encourages students to get tested because once they contract one STD, they are at higher risk to contract another.
Chlamydia is one of the four major STDs that affect college students, and it has become such a problem among this age group because people have sex before entering into a relationship and often before talking about protection, Cassalia said.
“It’s so prevalent in part because of this age group thinking they are invulnerable and thinking, ‘It would never happen to me,’ and then being too embarrassed to tell someone once they have it,” Cassalia said.
Fisher wants to make STD testing, specifically for chlamydia, as available as possible, with minimal barriers, she said.
For this reason, students who want to be tested do not have to schedule an appointment with a doctor at the Student Health Center, but can instead be tested by nurses, who have more flexible schedules, Fisher said. But, if students know they have been exposed to chlamydia, they will be given an appointment with a doctor, Fisher said.
Fisher also wants to make the hlamydia test more available by lowering its price. The current form of the urine test costs $46, plus a $10 lab-processing fee. The Student Health Center does not make a profit off the test, and Fisher and her colleagues are working with the lab to try to lower the cost of the test further, she said.
The Student Health Center also tries to help students who want to be tested but cannot afford it by billing them later or allowing them to pay in installments, Fisher said.
The Wellness Education Bandits, the student organization associated with the Student Health Center, is in the early stages of planning a spring event to raise awareness for STD testing, but at this time the Student Health Center is just relying on word-of-mouth to get information out about the new chlamydia test, Fisher said.
“We want people to know about it right away,” Fisher said. “But it’s hard to compete with the flu during the winter.”
Fisher strongly advises students to use condoms during all sexual interactions, because chlamydia can be contracted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. She reminds students that the Condom Caravan will be set up in the Forum in March, and condoms can also be found in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness.
Contact staff writer Erin Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org