Whether it’s sores, rashes, aches or other uncomfortable symptoms, this is just another busy year on the books for Cornell’s health center, which annually tests thousands of Cornellians for sexually transmitted diseases.
“Approximately 1 in 4 college students has an STI at some point in their life,” Rachel Clark, Cornell Health clinical director of women’s and sexual health, told The Sun. She said the clinic sees about 8,000 patients for STD testing each year.
Chlamydia currently tops the list as the most common disease currently spreading on Cornell’s campus, with gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis following behind, according to Beth Kutler, assistant director for medical services at Cornell Health. Citing HIPAA regulations, Cornell Health could not breakdown specific numbers for the amount of students who have received treatment.
New Yorkers across the state are also most likely to contract chlamydia out of all STDs, according to the CDC annual report. The Empire State clocks in at number 10 in the country for the number of annual Chlamydia cases, with around 119,571 reported in 2018. Almost two-thirds of all nationally recorded chlamydia cases were among patients aged 15–24 years.
Physicians have also noticed occasional upticks for syphilis “over the years,” prompting state and Tompkins county health departments concerned about the spread of the bacterial infection to coordinate their monitoring efforts with the University.
On campus, there have been fluctuations in the rate of students seeking testing over the last 10 years. Clark partially attributed these changes to the influx of students requesting testing after service access was granted to all students, regardless of whether they are enrolled in the Student Health Plans.
But while the move created an inflow of new visitors, according to Cornell Health representatives, the proportion of disease occurrence has remained mostly unchanged.
The month of August is typically the busiest time for medical staff conducting urine and blood samples for testing, according to Kutler, who said that many students might get tested at the beginning of the fall semester after returning from summer break.
Besides those surges, the relative prevalence of STDs has been “quite stable,” Kutler said. “The stability shows that our clinical staff is doing a good job of not over- or under-screening in the student population.”
Even so, the rise of Tinder, Grindr and other dating apps has become a major driver in the contraction of STDs among college students, public health officials have warned.
“They are the apps most often used by individuals who have tested positive for STIs, both in Tompkins County and in New York State,” said Jennifer Austin, Cornell Health’s director of communications. “Anonymous sex creates a real public health challenge.”
Compounding matters, the normalization of so-called “hook-up culture” and its associated anonymity can also lead to the potentially awkward situation of notifying your partner about your diagnosis, said Clark, who cautioned that “honesty is the best policy.”
Students looking to test for STD can go to Cornell Health, Planned Parenthood, Urgent Care offices and Cayuga Medical Center. Student organizations like the Panhellenic Council also occasionally sponsor special STI clinics over the course of the semester.
Cornell Health practitioners call to action? “Use protection.”