Approximately half of the 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) each year in the U.S. are found in people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Working toward lowering this statistic and changing the stigma of getting tested, Student Health Services (SHS) is offering free testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI) and flu shots today.
“It’s important for students to make informed decisions and be empowered to have healthy sexual relationships,” SHS Program Coordinator Susanna Perez-Field said. “It’s about protecting yourself and those you care about.”
The event will start at 9 a.m. outside the SHS Annex on the side of the USF Bookstore and continue through 3 p.m. Flu shots will be available while supplies last, and STI testing is offered for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis.
“We are designating more of our clinic space and more volunteers are coming in than any year before,” Perez-Field said. “We believe the testing process will be quicker for students.”
Last fall, Perez-Field said 150 students attended the free STI testing and more than 300 flu shots were given out. In the spring, more than 200 students participated in the testing.
She added that more students are expected to attend this year, as the event advertises free food and giveaways and more volunteers from Hillsborough County’s Department of Health.
In addition to testing and answering students’ questions about sexual health and SHS services, Perez-Field said SHS is working to alleviate the stigma of getting tested by changing campus perceptions of STIs, as well as switching the language they use.
The biggest difference is spreading awareness that STIs are often curable, contrary to misconceptions about STDs.
“If you think you have a disease, you don’t think there’s a cure — and that’s inaccurate,” she said. “Those inaccuracies are problematic because you feel there’s no hope. You’re afraid.”
She added that most STIs are curable with treatment, and even treatment for HIV has come far in recent years.
“If we can come at it from a place of knowledge, and take the fear out of it, then we can begin to address the issue.”
Perez-Field also urged students to take advantage of the free flu shots because many students forget that living in the Sunshine State doesn’t protect you from the flu, which is highly contagious and can sideline diagnosed students for up to a week without vaccination.
As students face midterms this month, she said the flu can sneak up without warning during peak months between November and January.
For students who miss today’s event, flu shots are included in the cost of tuition and can be received by appointment at SHS while supplies last. Additionally, the College of Public Health will host a free flu shot drive Nov. 13 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
On a monthly basis, STI testing is also available through SHS for free for students who make appointments. The Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office — DACCO — provides free HIV testing at SHS on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, and Youth Education Services (YES) provides gonorrhea and chlamydia testing on the third Tuesday of each month.