Rates of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, among young people are rising annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, people aged 15 to 24 acquire half of all new sexually transmitted infections.
Men and women aged 20 to 24 have the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea compared to other age groups.
In response to the high rates of STIs among young people, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) is partnering with Adagio Health Indiana to offer free screenings once a month.
Justin Cobb (junior, communications media/religious studies) said that, while he knows some information about STIs, he feels the information is not readily available.
“I would say I know enough to say I definitely don’t want to contract one,” Cobb said. “Most of the information I have about STIs, other than my [own] research into HIV AIDS, came from what I learned in high school.
“I feel like most people don’t learn enough about STIs in high school due to the lack of information. You’re lucky if you get any sex ed in high school. We don’t teach kids how to practice safe sex, [including] condom usage, birth control, consent, etc.”
Forty-four percent of young people living with HIV do not know they have the virus, which makes transmission more common, according to the CDC.
“The only time when you need information about STIs is when it is too late,” Cobb said.
PATF and Adagio will be offering free testing for HIV, STIs and hepatitis C from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month, starting this Thursday.
The HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis results will be available in 20 minutes, while the chlamydia and gonorrhea results take about a week.
PATF is a fairly small nonprofit that has been around since 1985 and serves 11 counties in western Pennsylvania, including Indiana County.
They have client service centers throughout the state, but their main location is in Pittsburgh.
Jason Herring, the community health director for PATF, said this is not the first time PATF has teamed up with other organizations outside of Pittsburgh to do free testing.
“We partner with a lot of organizations in the Pittsburgh region,” Herring said. “We’ve really been trying to make a concerted effort to [do more work] in rural areas and do what we can.”
Herring said the screening process will be testing for antibodies. He encouraged anyone to go to his or her regular doctor if the results come back positive because it could be a false positive.
He said anyone who has unprotected sex is at risk and should get tested, and that PATF will continue to offer the screenings as long as there is a need.
“Especially [with] syphilis, hepatitis C and HIV; you can have it for years and not know it,” Herring said.
“The numbers are skyrocketing for young people. The only way you can tell is to get tested. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you are at risk.
“You want to take care of yourself, and you do these things. It’s a natural thing, and we don’t judge people. Happier, healthier people make happier, healthier communities,” he said.
Adagio Health Indiana is not the only place students can get tested for STIs.
The IUP Health Service began offering screenings last fall. It has a walk-in clinic from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. The clinic takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Melissa Dick, nurse director at the Health Service, explained that it is just a urine sample to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia, and a blood draw to test for HIV and syphilis.
She said students who get the testing done through the clinic get the results in about a week, and that the Health Service offers some counseling regarding risk reduction and keeping students safe.
“We try to think of why students don’t get tested, and I think they don’t know what’s going to happen to them when they come in,” Dick said.
Last semester, the clinic saw about 25 to 35 people each month.
In addition to the monthly clinic, Dick encouraged students to call the Health Service at 724-357-2550 with any questions.
Students can speak to nurses confidentially about sexual health if they need to.
“Most of the stuff is treatable, and we do that here,” Dick said.
“So many kids are uneducated on how to stay safe, the importance of getting tested and signs and symptoms.
“These things are treatable, but if [students] don’t get tested, they can’t be treated. We’re here to help students. We want them to get tested even if they feel they aren’t high-risk.”
While the monthly screenings at Adagio Health Indiana are free, there is a small fee for the IUP-based clinic.
“Health care is expensive,” Cobb said.
“Here at IUP, it costs $25 to get yourself tested. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but to a college student, especially one who lives on their own, paying bills, rent and food, that’s a lot.
“Sexual health is important, and I understand that is probably why there is a price tag. It’s just a fact that between the price of getting it for free and paying $25, I’m obviously going to choose the free option.
“I feel it should be made a priority when we budget, so I support any program that helps offset the cost.”
The Health Service is located on the ground floor of Suites on Maple East, while Adagio Health Indiana is located at 1097 Oak St.