Along with more formal studies, university is a time when many students start learning about sex and relationships. In the age of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, students need to know how to make positive choices about sexual health.
On Thursday, Sept. 6, there’s an opportunity for an open discussion about sexual and other communicable diseases. The session, featuring three medical experts, takes place from 2-3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Inco Innovation Centre.
Dr. Norman Lee, the family physician with the Student Health Service, will talk about common sexually-transmitted diseases. Dr. Cathy Popadiuk, a gynecologic oncologist with Women’s Health, will discuss the new vaccine for human papilloma virus and the continuing need for yearly PAP smears. And, Dr. Jim Hutchinson, an expert in infectious diseases, will talk about more serious communicable disease such as HIV and hepatitis, and how to avoid infection.
Dr. Lee deals directly with university students on a daily basis. He said the most common sexually-transmitted diseases he sees are chlamydia and genital warts.
“We have to treat these and any complications that develop as well as do contact tracing to ensure we treat anyone else who might be infected.”
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting as many as one in 10 sexually active young men and women. It’s sometimes called the silent STI because of its lack of symptoms, although it can be successfully treated if detected through screening.
Genital warts is a highly contagious sexually transmitted infection caused by some types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). It is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. HPV is also the cause of many cases of cervical cancer.
Dr. Popadiuk will talk about the new cervical cancer vaccine.
“About 70 per cent of cervical cancer is a result of two strains of HPV and this vaccine protects against these two strains plus two others,” she said. “But there is a lot of confusion about what having the vaccine means. A really important message is that even if a young woman is vaccinated, it is still essential to have yearly pap smears. Screening rates for cervical cancer in areas of this province are among the lowest in the country, with Newfoundland and Labrador having the highest mortality rate of the provinces. University students are in a position to educate themselves and bring the message back to their mothers and other family members.”
The provincial government has announced it will begin vaccinating girls in Grade 6 with the HPV vaccine, but that leaves older girls and women without this protection. The vaccine, given in three doses, comes with a hefty price tag of $430. “Students have to decide if they can budget this money in,” said Dr. Popadiuk. “If the students see value to receiving the vaccine, they should consider lobbying the provincial government, insurance companies, and the companies that make the vaccine to either cover the cost or lower it.”
Dr. Lee pointed out that the decision to vaccinate girls doesn’t address the issue that although boys don’t get cervical cancer they can get genital warts and pass it on.
Although sexually-transmitted infections are the most common infectious diseases seen among university students, there are other serious diseases that students should be aware of.
Dr. Hutchinson will cover the more serious sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B, and also talk about meningitis and tuberculosis. “We are all bringing the same message, and that’s how to avoid being infected and what to do if you are.”
Dr. Lee said the goal of the information session is to have a frank discussion with students about the health dangers involved in being sexually active. “We need to get the message across that it is important to protect yourself. You need to be responsible sexually.”