Despite increased attention to the dangers of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, recent studies show many sexually active teens are ignorant of the true risks of potentially hazardous sex habits.
According to a national study by Bruce Jancin in OBGYN News, 40 percent of sexually active teenagers have never discussed STDs with a partner, 43 percent do not use condoms during intercourse, and an even greater 55 percent do not discuss STDs with their current partners.
While most members of the University community have passed their teen years, the student population is not immune to these statistics.
Although cases of HIV and AIDS are rarely reported at the University's Student Health Center, other STDs are still commonplace and potentially very dangerous.
According to Dr. Christine Peterson of Student Health's Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, STDs such as chlamydia and Human Papilloma Virus are quite common on college campuses.
Every sexually active woman who visits a gynecologist, for example, is tested for chlamydia.
"The chlamydia rates have dropped recently and HPV rates have risen," Peterson said. "Condoms don't prevent" HPV.
HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area and causes various forms of genital warts. Despite its ease in contraction, the disease is curable.
In the Charlottesville region, the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Health's Division of HIV/STD Quarterly Surveillance Report showed that the total number of reported HIV cases within the past 11 to 12 years is 157, with 110 males and 47 females reported contracting HIV symptoms. 217 patients were reported as having full-fledged AIDS.
Thirty-six cases of syphilis, 1,409 cases of gonorrhea, and 2,687 cases of chlamydia were diagnosed in the 15-24 year-old age group within the entire state.
Specifically, from January to March of 1999, one case of syphilis, 64 cases of chlamydia, and 38 cases of gonorrhea were recorded within the city of Charlottesville.
These numbers include those reported by Student Health and other medical facilities throughout the area.
Peterson said AIDS is not on the top of students' concerns about contracting STDs.
"Most students aren't truly concerned that they've been exposed to the AIDS virus unless they've been properly diagnosed," she said.
The report, however, did not include statistics for the HPV, which she added was very much on the rise because of its ease in contraction.
The OBGYN News reported that almost 80 percent of sexually active women contract the virus by the time they graduate from college.
While these numbers should evoke concern, it should be stressed that these women did not actually develop the HPV disease, Peterson said.
According to OBGYN News, more than 90 percent of the women with the virus in their system showed almost no symptoms at all.
"It isn't a permanent infection, unlike most of the other STDs," said Michael Rein, associate chairman of the University's Department of Medicine, who specializes in STDs.
Students and STDs
University health officials said they are concerned that students may not be properly informed about certain STDs.
"I think students know general facts about AIDS and STDs, but I don't think they're very knowledgeable about specific details," said Peer Health Educator Katie Shenk. "Many students may think that only certain groups within our population are at risk for becoming infected."
Rein echoed Shenk's statement.
"Many students may have incorrect ideas about STDs," Rein said.
Rein used genital herpes as an example of such problems.
"Out of all the herpes cases in the world, only 20 percent of the people know they have herpes," he said.
"I don't think many students show great concern," Shenk said. "Students only become concerned if they or someone they know becomes infected."
But Rein did entertain a more positive outlook concerning students' viewpoints on STDs.
"The students I see in my clinic generally have a realistic view of STDs," he said.
Some administrators feel that concern about STDs should be increased because STDs are much more serious than they appear to be.
"When talking about the impact of sexually transmitted infections on a person's life, it's a huge impact," Peterson said.
She further emphasized that diagnosis of a STD does not only mean physical consequences.
"STDs [are] much more serious because of their emotional repercussions on individuals," she added.
But Peterson offered encouragement and support to any students troubled by or about STDs.
"If students have any questions or concerns about STDs, they should feel free and comfortable to come to Student Health at any time"