EKU appears to be the latest example of the rising national trend in sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases, according to records released by EKU Student Health Services for the fall 2017 semester.
In the 276 screening tests performed by student health from Aug. 21 to Nov. 6, 51 came back positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea, a 10 to 15 percent increase from last year’s STI statistics, EKU student health services manager Patrese Nesbitt said.
“Any time there is an increase in the double digits, it generally is not good,” Nesbitt said.
While student health could not recover data from previous years to illustrate a hike, Nesbitt said that the change has been noticeable.
46 of the 51 positive tests came back positive for chlamydia, while five were positive for gonorrhea, Nesbitt said.
She said that the chances of significant unreported gonorrhea cases were likely because hosts are often asymptomatic; some can go 30 days or the rest of their lives without showing any symptoms.
Nesbitt said that student health has also recorded five cases of STI re-exposure this semester. No cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have been recorded this semester, although positive HIV tests warrant a different protocol, she said.
Not all students are reporting potential STIs to student health services, however.
As a way to avoid potential embarrassment in front of classmates and faculty members, Nesbitt said, many have instead been getting tested at the Madison County Health Department a mile east of campus.
Jim Thacker, public information officer for the health department, provided some statistics that may suggest an even larger problem than student health services was able to report.
Thacker said that cases recorded at the health department do not reflect all Madison County cases (due to some private clinics and primary care doctors sending records straight to the Kentucky Department for Public Health). However, the health department has noticed a significant increase in the monthly average of reported cases since August – roughly around the same time classes began for the fall semester.
The jump from 25 cases a month from January to August to 34 cases each month from August to October created an increase of 36 percent in the average.
In the time since August 1, 75 cases of chlamydia, 25 cases of gonorrhea, and 2 cases of syphilis have been recorded at the health department. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations prevented Thacker from disclosing the ages of the patients tested to suggest which may have been EKU students.
The cases recorded by student health alone, however, present another troubling trend.
When combined with health department numbers, cases from student health have made up 16.5 percent of all STI cases recorded in Madison County.
That percentage was accumulated in just over three months, compared to the 10 months that it took the health department to compile 258 cases. Explanations for the increase vary.
“I think there’s some sort of information hang-up somewhere,” Nesbitt said.
She added that the popularity of dating apps that promote “hookup culture” like Tinder are allowing students to bypass lessons on safe sex and risks that accompany promiscuity. However, she added that the apps, in principle, are not the problem.
“I have friends getting married off of those apps,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt said that instead of neglecting the topic of safety, apps like Tinder should include ads or pop-ups that educate users or ask that users be safe and aware.
The other factor contributing to the spike, she said, may be the commonality of “abstinence-only education,” or state policies that require abstinence, not contraception to be stressed in their sex education programs.
These policies are used Kentucky and the nearby states of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Missouri. A lack of previous education and discussion on matters other than abstinence is hurting students’ abilities to deal with certain changes and freedoms that come with the college culture, she said.
At the health department, Thacker attributed the increase to a lack of education, but also to the county’s widespread IV drug use.
He said that while needles transfer many of the STIs, infected people are also engaging in sexual activities under the influence. Others are unaware that they’re infected and are unknowingly spreading STIs, Thacker said.
Despite the increases, Nesbitt said, students are becoming more aware of student health as a resource for staying safe from STIs.
“Students are starting to see it as not just a location to get a strip test,” she said.
To schedule an appointment at student health services, go to the “SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT” tab at https://healthservices.eku.edu/. Additional testing centers can be found at https://gettested.cdc.gov/search_results.