By Elizabeth Field
In 2015, the rate of chlamydia, a sexually-transmitted infection, was 854 per 100,000 people in Kalamazoo County. That is 181 percent higher than Ottawa County, which has a population of similar size, and 144 percent higher than Isabella County, where Central Michigan University is located.
Wayne County, the most populated county in Michigan and home of Wayne State University, has a chlamydia rate only slightly higher than Kalamazoo.
Chlamydia is spread by having unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with someone who has the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can cause long-term pain and infertility, according to the CDC.
“Chlamydia and HPV are some of the higher STIs on campus,” said Sabrina Merz, sexual health coordinator at WMU’s Sindecuse Health Center.
“A lot of students come in not having a lot of that basic information,” Merz said. “The sex education in high schools is not in a good place, unfortunately, in most places. A lot of places are still doing abstinence-only.”
The only way to avoid getting chlamydia is to avoid vaginal, anal, and oral sex, according to the CDC. However, for those who choose to have sex, using latex condoms correctly each time lowers the chance of getting the infection.
Merz said she is currently supervising nine peer health educators who do various presentations on campus that educate students who choose to have sex about safe sex and healthy relationships. Last fall, Sindecuse also began offering a condom delivery service for students who live on campus.
WMU transfer student Chad Bradbury said he wasn’t familiar with these services. “Honestly, I haven’t heard a thing about them since I started going to Western,” he said.
“At Michigan State, I didn’t even know where the medical building was,” said Bradbury, a senior majoring in integrated supply management. “I think Sindecuse definitely has a bigger presence here.”
Freshman Taria James, a secondary education and English major, said she learned of the services offered at Sindecuse during orientation and that she would utilize them if she needed to. “Yeah, I know they do testing and all that kind of stuff,” James said.
“I have about four or five STI checks in my schedule on a daily basis,” said Kiarra Lane, a certified medical assistant at Sindecuse.
“The main thing with these STIs is some people will display symptoms, and some people don’t have symptoms at all,” Lane said.
Symptoms for women may include abnormal vaginal discharge and painful urination, and symptoms for men may include discharge from the penis and painful urination, according to the CDC.
“I think a lot of it, honestly, has to do with this being a college town,” Lane said. “We have students coming from all over. Wayne County is the highest in Michigan with gonorrhea and chlamydia rates, and we have a high number of students that come from that area too.”
Lane said she has heard students stigmatizing Sindecuse as the “STI clinic,” but she wants students to know that they treat everything.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to utilize our clinic,” Lane said. “There are a lot of resources here on campus for students.”