STDs in College: Common Infections and How to Prevent Them

If you’re in college, chances are you’re already worried about test scores. But there’s another set of test scores you should be worrying about: your STD testing results.

STD incidences are on the rise, especially among young people. According to CDC, nearly half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted disease diagnoses made each year are among people aged 15-24. About 24 percent of all new HIV infections are among young people aged 13 to 24 years. The CDC estimates that one in two sexually active persons will contract some kind of STD or STI by age 25.

In 2016, the CDC also reported that total cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in the US had reached an unprecedented high in 2015. Among these new cases, people aged 15 to 24 accounted for a large number. In the report, the CDC noted that 1.5 million new cases of chlamydia and about 400,000 new cases of gonorrhea were reported during the year. The 15-24 age group accounted for 65 percent of those new chlamydia cases and 53 percent of the gonorrhea cases. Even though young people account for more than half of these new STD instances, a recent survey reported that only about 12% had been tested for STDs in the previous year.

For these reasons and more, it’s important to be in the know and proactive about STDs in college and your sexual health.

Most common STDs in college

HPV

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common STD on college campuses. Like other STDs, HPV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as certain other kinds of intimate skin-to-skin contact. Because HPV is often asymptomatic, transmission is very common. The CDC estimates that 80% of people will contract some strain of the virus in their lifetime.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is an STD with more than 150 active different strains. The strains range from benign to very serious. Many strains do not cause those infected to develop any kind of symptoms. Other, more serious strains can cause genital warts or cancer, including cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar and oropharyngeal cancers. The National Cancer Institute estimates that HPV is responsible for approximately 31,500 cases of cancer each year, including nearly all cases of cervical and anal cancer and approximately 75%, 70% and 69% of vaginal, oropharyngeal and vulvar cancer cases, respectively.

Though there is a series of vaccines available for HPV, and many young people may have already been vaccinated, the vaccines do not protect against every strain of HPV. The vaccines help prevent against several strains of HPV that are known to cause cancers and genital warts, but there are still more than 100 strains of HPV the vaccines do not protect against.

Chlamydia

After HPV, the most common STD for people between the ages of 15 and 24 years is chlamydia. As we mentioned earlier, the CDC reported approximately 1.5 million cases of chlamydia in 2015. This number represents the highest number of annual cases of any condition (not just STDs) reported to the CDC.

Like HPV and other STDs, chlamydia is transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Like HPV, chlamydia is often asymptomatic, but can still cause serious adverse effects, including infertility, sterility, ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain, scarring, and pelvic inflammatory disease. The CDC estimates that undiagnosed STDs, including chlamydia, cause 24,000 women to become infertile every year.

Though most people do not experience any symptoms, symptoms can include a burning sensation when urinating, pain during sex, genital or rectal discharge, pain and itching, back and abdominal discomfort, fever, nausea and spotting between periods. If symptoms develop, they usually are not apparent until 1-3 weeks after exposure.

In 95% of cases, chlamydia is curable with antibiotics.

Herpes

After chlamydia and HPV, the third most common infection is herpes. Herpes is a group of two different viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Though either virus can cause either infection, HSV-1 is typically linked to oral herpes and HSV-2 is typically linked to genital herpes.

According to the CDC, approximately 20 percent of all college students have the herpes virus. That’s 1 in 5. For those aged 14 to 49, the CDC estimates that 1 in 8 people has genital herpes and 1 in 2 people have oral herpes.

Like other STDs, herpes can be spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex, but also in other kinds of intimate skin-to-skin contact, including kissing. Herpes typically causes outbreaks of sores to appear in infected areas, such as the mouth, lips, throat, vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, anus, scrotum, butt and thighs. While herpes is known for these outbreaks, it can still be asymptomatic, or, if symptoms do present, they can go unnoticed. Studies show that nearly 90% of people with genital herpes don’t know they have it. Typically, after contracting herpes, your first outbreak occurs within 6 months, but the virus can live in the body for years without causing an outbreak.

While there is no cure for herpes, there are medications that can lessen the severity, duration and frequency of outbreaks.

How to prevent STDs in college

Of course, whether you’re in college or not, the most reliable ways to avoid contracting an STD is to abstain from any kind of sexual activity or be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Unfortunately, those aren’t always realistic avenues for college students.

To avoid contracting STDs in college, make sure that you get tested regularly. If you’re sexually active and under the age of 25, the CDC recommends that you get tested at least yearly. You should always get tested as soon as you experience any symptoms or if a current or former partner is diagnosed.

Knowing your status and the status of a partner or potential partner is essential to protect yourself from STDs in college. Using protection, such as internal and external condoms, will also help, but they don’t protect against every kind of STD.

Don’t let long, embarrassing waits to get tested at a university wellness center or free clinics prevent you from getting tested. Priority STD has thousands of nationwide centers that offer affordable, convenient and discrete testing. Do your part to reduce the spread of and increase in infections by getting tested and practicing safer sex with partners who have also been tested.