Sexual health-related visits are among the top ten reasons why Debra Morin sees students at the LaSalle clinic on campus.
“Some people just don’t practice safe sex,” said Morin, who’s the Charge Nurse for Health, Counseling and Disability Services (HCDS).
Morin said HCDS doesn’t have available statistics on the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed on campus every year. She said the five most commonly-seen STIs are: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex and HPV/genital warts.
Chlamydia has been diagnosed more frequently as of late, Morin said.
According to Morin, when a case of chlamydia is reported, the diagnosis must be relayed to Public Health Canada.
Public Health will record the case and inform the patient’s past and current sexual partners of their diagnosis, keeping the patient anonymous.
“The prevalence of STIs in our patient demographic [at Queen’s] is much higher than in an older, non-student population,” HCDS Medical Director Dr. Suzanne Billing told the Journal via email.
Billing said there is believed to be a relationship between STIs in the student population and what is seen as high-risk behaviour at this age.
“Behaviours such as multiple partners, sporadic barrier use, substance abuse and lack of information on STI transmission [contribute to this belief],” she said.
A 2009 study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that between 1997 and 2007, reported rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and infectious syphilis were continually higher among young adults aged 15 to 29 years than older adults, aged 40 to 59 years.
Billing said treatable STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are on the decline but HIV is not.
Before 2009, 62 per cent of all reported HIV cases were in homosexual men.
The rate of HIV in homosexual men is declining, Billing said, but it’s becoming more common in the heterosexual population.
“Half of all positive [HIV] diagnoses in females were in young people aged under 20 years old,” Billing said, adding that while most exposure to the virus was from heterosexual intercourse, injection drug use made up for over 19 per cent of infections in women since 2009.
Morin said there is a standardized protocol for the identification and treatment of STIs regulated by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A student-requested screening for STIs begins with reviewing a patient’s sexual history, including number of past partners and use of barrier methods.
“The routine testing is for chlamydia, gonorrhea, Hepatitis B and C, syphilis and HIV,” Morin said, adding that STI testing methods have not changed much since she began at HCDS eight years ago.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea is tested using a urine sample, while identifying herpes requires a swab of the lesion. Morin said that other STIs require blood work to recognize.
“You’ll get some students who are very upset about their diagnosis, but they’re just happy to know if they have something or not, to receive treatment and just to be educated about it,” she said.
Morin said that honesty within sexual partnerships is paramount in preventing the spread of STIs.
“I don’t know if there’s necessarily a stigma with STIs,” she said. “There may be a stigma attached to the fact that if you have an STI, you’ve had multiple partners, which isn’t always the case.
“If you’ve had more partners, you’re more at risk to get an STI,” Morin said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you’ve only had one partner, you’re not going to get one.”
Leigh Taylor, director of the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC), said that Residence Life is increasing its promotion of safe sex practices this year.
“We are asked [by Residence Life] to discuss STIs,” Taylor said, adding that the SHRC will be more involved in Frosh Week this year.
“We’ve always worked with dons, but this year Residence Life is targeting safe sex as the main focus,” she said.
Taylor said that trained volunteers specializing in sexual education, dubbed “sexperts,” will collaborate with dons to run educational workshops with first-year students about sexual health topics.
“It’s targeting our services and what we can do to help,” SHRC Director Leigh Taylor said. “It’s promoting those safer sex practices and having people practice them.”
She said that the SHRC also sells products aimed at preventing the transmission of bacterial infections.
“We have a series of barrier methods for preventing skin-to-skin contact or fluid transmission,” Taylor said, adding that these products include latex and non-latex condoms for both men and women and, as a new addition, rubber gloves to avoid the spread of infection through external wounds during manual stimulation with the hands.
Most students opt for phallic condoms, she said.
Volunteers at the Centre can give students information and advice about the treatment of STIs, but are not equipped to diagnose them.
“Instead, we stress that to be sure about any STI, you have to be seen by a doctor and have them make a diagnosis,” Taylor said.
—With files from Terra-Ann Arnone and Jake Edmiston
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