The combined number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reached an all-time high in 2015, with young adults accounting for most cases of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s annual report on sexually transmitted diseases, which came out earlier this month, found that people ages 15 to 25 accounted for one-half of all gonorrhea cases last year and two-thirds of all chlamydia cases. And while Yale Health officials continue to make STD prevention a top priority, national STD diagnoses continue to rise.
Andrew Gotlin, chief of student health and athletic medicine at Yale Health, said he could not release the number of STD diagnoses at Yale in 2015 due to confidentiality stipulations. However, he did confirm that Yale Student Health was aware of the CDC’s report.
“My impression is that we as a country are not doing as good a job at prevention as we should and could,” Gotlin said. “Given this rise, we need a strong message that screening and testing is necessary for preventing [sexually transmitted infections].”
Still, Gotlin said that Yale Student Health will not change its STD awareness and treatment practices in response to the report.
David Roth, chief of Yale Health’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, said that although his department does not collect the statistics of STD cases in the Yale student population, he has not observed a rise in STD diagnoses in the department’s female patients this year. He also confirmed that aside from human papillomavirus, chlamydia was the most common STD he observed among members of the Yale community. While Yale has not experienced an apparent rise in STD rates in line with national trends, Roth said that his department is always looking for ways to help STD prevention.
“We already know this is a really important topic for us to address, so we are doing a lot for prevention and screening,” Gotlin added.
But while Yale’s resources are abundant, Roth acknowledged that outside Yale, STDs are more prevalent in underserved areas where state and local governments are often cutting funding for health clinics. The CDC’s report made a similar claim, attributing the significant increase in STDs in part to budget cuts for more than half of state and local STD programs nationwide.
“Luckily, that’s not an issue at Yale for us,” Roth said.
Roth said it is often difficult to determine whether students are not coming for routine checkups because they seek medical care at home, or because they are simply avoiding seeing the gynecologist entirely. He added that when students do see a Yale Health gynecologist, Yale doctors screen for chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are the most common STDs among young adults.
In recent years, Yale Student Health has developed a sexual health initiative involving STD “screening parties,” to encourage Yale students to get tested. Every semester, Yale Health partners with organizations across the Yale community to host a mass screening event at the Yale Health Lab. Pizza and games are provided to students while they wait to get tested. This initiative allows students to get a full and comprehensive STD testing with blood and urine samples without the hassle of scheduling an appointment at Yale Health.
“[The STD screening parties have] been really, really successful because we partnered with various student groups to make sure that students feel they have some ownership of this and we really want them to be involved,” said Tracy George GRD ’15, a Yale student-wellness health educator.
George also helps plan the annual Valentine’s Day “Sex and Chocolate” event for graduate and professional students. The event, which features chocolate desserts and drinks, allows students to anonymously submit sexual health questions via text message. The questions are then projected onto a large screen with both the questions and the answers from Yale health professionals. This program is meant to facilitate conversation and education about sexual health issues such as STD transmission and pregnancy in a fun and safe environment, George said.
“With programs like the [Community and Consent Educators] … the conservations around sexual health are really ramping up and there’s much more access to safe sex supplies, so I feel really good about what we’re doing here and love how much we’re partnering with students rather than it just being a top down kind of program,” George said.
George’s office works with the Office of Gender and Campus Culture, the CCEs, the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Freshman Counselors to distribute all the condoms, lubrication, internal condoms and dental dams throughout Yale’s campus.
“It looks different at different universities but we’re one of the universities that actually offers all of these supplies for free. Luckily, we do have a good portion of our budget set aside for these medical supplies so that students can get any sort of supplies they need,” George said.
STD tests at Yale Health are free to all Yale students, even those who have waived the Yale Health Hospitalization/Specialty Care Coverage.