The Student Health Center is now offering free testing for sexually transmitted infections every other Thursday evening.
On Sept. 10, the Virginia Health District came to campus for the first time to offer free STI screenings for HIV, gonorrhea and Chlamydia to all students from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Slade Gormus, a nurse at the Student Health Center, said it will continue to come during this time every other week unless there is a greater demand, and then more frequent or longer visits would be considered.
There were 20 students who attended the first day of screening and 12 on the following, Gormus said.
There were no cases of STIs in any of the students tested so far, said Joardan Thornton, a health educator for the Virginia Department of Health.
Students have told Gormus that they would be more willing to get tested for STIs if the testing was free, Gormus said. Right now a full STI screening costs around $110, because the Health Center has to send the samples to a lab for testing, and the lab sends a bill.
Gormus knew that the Virginia Department of Health offered free STI testing at Virginia Union University and asked if it would be interested in coming to Richmond, she said. The VDH was ultimately more interested once it heard about how expensive it was for students to get tested on campus, especially when there were free services available, Thornton said.
There is not an outbreak or any health concern on campus that spurred this effort, Gormus said. She just wanted more students to get tested and make campus healthier, she said.
Gormus, however, said she thought Richmond students would be surprised when they hear that there had been positive HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia cases on campus before.
“People have their ideas of who is getting infected and, you know, it can happen to anybody," Gormus said, "and that’s why it’s important that we take measure to use condoms and get testing on a regular basis.”
Typically the Student Health Center does around 150 STI tests a year, Gormus said. Last year seven of those tests confirmed cases of Chlamydia, but those were only in students who were actually tested at the Student Health Center. There could have been more cases on campus, she said.
The free screenings do not test for syphilis, as that form of testing is a more involved process that requires drawing blood. The HIV test is a finger-prick and the student has to wait only 15 minutes for the results. A urine test is used to screen for gonorrhea and Chlamydia, so those results take about a week to come back, Gormus said.
The Student Health Center closes during the free testing time, so all the students in the clinic are there to be tested. Gormus hopes that this will relieve awkwardness about coming to be tested and foster some conversation between students in the waiting room, she said. She also hopes that students will bring their friends and make a night out of the free testing, she said.
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“I don’t want people to be embarrassed, and I don’t want people to feel awkward or anything like that,” Gormus said. “I want them to be comfortable and make healthy choices.”
Thornton said she encouraged people to know their sexual health status and to make responsible choices. Sexual choices can affect a person’s overall health, she said.
“People are having sex, of course, and people are having unprotected sex, of course, and I just think that sexual health is very important because it encompasses everything,” Thornton said. “If you’re sexual health is not right, then your emotional health can be affected, your physical health can be affected, your mental health can be affected, it all plays into one.”
The next free testing date is Thursday, Oct. 8.
Contact reporter Ellie Potter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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