TNHsquareLogo_longLOVEBy Liz Haas, Staff Writer

April is designated as STD Awareness Month, and UNH Health Services is celebrating with $5 gift cards for every student that undergoes a free test for sexually transmitted diseases.

Kathleen Grace-Bishop, the University of New Hampshire’s director of education and promotion advises that all sexually active students take advantage of these offers.

“Students often will come in for HIV testing and not think about the need to be tested for [STDs],” says Grace-Bishop.  “If you are concerned you are at risk for HIV, you should also talk with healthcare provider[s] about being tested for [STDs].”

All testing is confidential. To receive an STD test or screening, students can make an appointment at Health Services where a health care provider will counsel them on which tests should be conducted.

Prices and expected time for results vary based on which tests are conducted. Students can bill their health insurance plan or pay via cash, personal check, Visa, MasterCard, Discover or Cat’s Cache, and will receive the promised $5 gift card to either Dunkin’ Donuts, Aroma Joe’s, Breaking New Grounds or The Works Bakery Cafe, regardless of the number of tests or payment method.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in two sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25.  Those of the ages 15 to 24 represent half of all new STD infections each year, despite the fact that they represent only a quarter of people having sex.

Grace-Bishop recommends that sexually active students, including those who have participated in oral, anal or vaginal intercourse get tested yearly, even if they use protection such as condoms and dental dams. She also recommends that students get tested each time they have a new partner.

“You are not just having sex with your partner,” says Grace-Bishop, “but with everyone they’ve had sex with and everyone they’ve had sex with and so on. Remember, you don’t [need to] have any symptoms to pass STDs to someone. Get tested even if you feel you don’t have symptoms or have tested negative in the past.”

Not having intercourse is the surest way to avoid STDs, but Grace-Bishop also says that those who are sexually active should limit their number of partners to decrease their risk.

“Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is one of the most reliable ways to avoid [STDs],” says Grace-Bishop. “But both partners should get tested to make sure they are not infected with STDs before starting a sexual relationship.”

Many STDs are curable, and most others are treatable. Students who do test positive can receive additional treatment through Health Services. They should also tell their partners so they too can be tested and treated if necessary.

“It is never an easy conversation,” says Grace-Bishop. “But it is a very important [conversation] to have. If you need help telling your partner, practice what you will say in a mirror by writing it down, by saying it to someone you trust or by talking confidentially with a wellness educator or counselor at Health Services.”

On Thursday April 23, free HIV testing will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at a walk-in clinic in Health Services room 249.