June 12 , 2006
First-year college students at greater risk for chlamydia
by holly korschun
College freshmen under the age of 20 at several colleges in the southeastern United States were almost 70 percent more likely to test positive for chlamydia than students between 20 and 24 years of age, according to findings presented on May 9 by Adelbert James, senior program associate in gynecology and obstetrics at the School of Medicine, at the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. James’ effort is the first regional evaluation of chlamydia prevalence on college campuses.
The study, conducted by student health centers in April 2004, included 789 students (263 freshmen) screened voluntarily for chlamydia at 10 colleges in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Due in part to the participation of several historically black colleges, the majority of participants were African American (80.2 percent), with more than half of students screened being female (57 percent). The average age of participants was 21.7.
While chlamydia prevalence in all students was 9.7 percent, prevalence among the 263 freshmen was 13 percent. James, who directs the CDC-sponsored Region IV Infertility Prevention Project, said it is critical for student health centers to provide chlamydia screening and treatment services. He says it is just as important to educate college freshmen and other students about STD risks and prevention strategies.
“The CDC recommends that women under the age of 25 who are sexually active and engage in unprotected sex be tested for chlamydia,” he said. “This is very important, because chlamydia causes ectopic pregnancies and infertility in young women; it is asymptomatic in 80 percent of women and 50 percent of men. It’s especially important for college students, many of whom exhibit high-risk sexual behavior and don’t use condoms very often. It’s imperative that they protect themselves.”
Typically, student health centers only provide chlamydia testing and treatment to students with symptoms of the disease.
“These findings underscore the importance of providing chlamydia education, screening and testing services to all students, with efforts targeting freshmen, in particular,” James said. “Since our initial findings, a few colleges have begun routine screening for chlamydia.”
The project intends to expand annual monitoring of chlamydia prevalence on college campuses. In order to better determine whether freshmen are arriving at school with the infection or becoming infected at college, the project may begin measuring prevalence at the start of the school year rather than in the spring. This will help determine whether additional chlamydia outreach and prevention programs should be focused on high school students, as well as college freshmen.