By Cathy Schutt
Starting this semester, the Health Services department now offers testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
“Kankakee County has a pretty high rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea,” said Mary Schweigert, Olivet’s campus nurse in Counseling and Health Services.
In fact, more than 400 cases of chlamydia or gonorrhea existed per 100,000 people in Kankakee County in 2008. Thirty-five percent of those cases were 15- to 19-year-olds.
“So our population here at Olivet, as an age group, accounts for a pretty high percentage of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the state of Illinois,” Schweigert explained.
She added that the percentage of people with these diseases is higher in women than in men, though both sexes can become infected.
Because these rates are so high, the Illinois Department of Public Health is funding the testing, so students who come for an STD screening on campus do not have to pay for it.
Although the Kankakee County Health Department has an STD clinic, Schweigert felt that offering screenings on campus would allow students to get tested without labeling them with a “scarlet letter.”
“We see 20 [or] 30 kids a day for all sorts of reasons, so you blend right in with whoever else is coming into our clinic,” she said.
The screening is simple. Students are only required to provide a urine sample, which is then sent to the state laboratory for testing. Health Services receives the test results about a week later.
If a student tests positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea, Health Services will prescribe an antibiotic, which is paid for by the state. After three months of taking the antibiotic, the student returns to Health Services for a “test of cure” to make sure the infection is gone, Schweigert said.
Under the authorization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who have positive test results may also take a prescription of antibiotics to their partner or partners. The partner would not need to come in for a separate screening, since he or she has already been exposed to the infection.
“[Our hope] is that people would get treated and stop spreading it around,” Schweigert said.
Health Services only provides screenings for chlamydia and gonorrhea, since they are two of the most common STDs. Testing for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases is more advanced and may involve a blood sample.
If Schweigert deems a student at high risk of having other STIs or STDs, she may refer that student to the Kankakee County Health Department for further testing and treatment.
STD screenings are completely confidential. Although Olivet students are required to sign a Lifestyle Covenant, which includes a commitment to abstain from sex outside the boundaries of marriage, no disciplinary action will be taken against those who get tested for STDs. The testing will not be included on any school records.
Students under the age of 18 will need a parental consent form before they can be tested.
Schweigert encourages anyone who has been or is currently sexually active to come in and get tested at least once a year.
“The new guidelines from the CDC say that all sexually active men and women under the age of 25 should get tested annually,” she explained.
Because people with chlamydia or gonorrhea do not always have symptoms, Schweigert said it is very important for students who have been sexually active in the past to come in for a screening, just in case.
“If they are not treated … they can cause reproductive damage,” she said. She added that women with STDs are at an especially high risk of encountering problems later in life when they want to have a baby.
More than anything, Schweigert encourages students to abstain from premarital sex. Regardless of what people have done in the past, they can still change their life by deciding to become abstinent now, she said.
“What we’re treating is the consequence of choices they made, and God’s grace and forgiveness covers it all,” she affirmed.
Students can make appointments for STD screenings and other health services at my.olivet.edu. The request form can be accessed under the “Student Support” tab in the “Health and Wellness” link.