All your STI Questions — Answered!

The Peak sat down with Health & Counselling’s Nurse Barb Chick to learn more about STIs and the sexual health services available to SFU students

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It’s important to get an STI test before you have sex with anyone new. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

by Victoria Lopatka, Staff Writer

What is an STI? 

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection passed from person to person “during sex or intimate contact.” STIs can be transmitted via oral, vaginal, or anal sex, and sometimes during skin-to-skin contact. They can be symptomatic or asymptomatic (meaning you can carry an STI and not feel sick or uncomfortable). 

What should I do if I think I have an STI?

In an interview with The Peak, Nurse Barb said the first thing is to do is to stop having sex until you’ve been tested. She then said you can talk to her or the doctors at Health & Counselling. They are able to send a requisition email to LifeLabs and then you can go to your nearest one to get a gonorrhea and chlamydia test.

Students can begin this process by calling Health & Counselling or visiting in-person. There are some circumstances which require an in-person visit, like if a rash or sore needs to be checked out. If an STI test comes back positive, a health care professional can help you come up with a treatment plan, which may include medications to manage and treat the STI. You will also have to notify any recent sexual partners, so they can get tested as well.

 

What is it like to get tested for an STI?

Different STIs involve different tests — the test you do depends on what you’re concerned about. Tests include urine tests, blood tests, physical examinations, or taking samples from any sores or bumps. For example, if you are getting tested for chlamydia, your healthcare provider will often ask you to urinate in a cup, and your urine will be tested for chlamydia.

 

How can I keep myself and my partner(s) safe from STIs?

Nurse Barb urges students to focus on two things: prevention and testing. “Prevention is the best, wearing condoms, consider vaccines, barriers — that’s great prevention.” She added, “You can get tested throughout your lifetime, as many times as you want [ . . . ] If you’ve had any sexual contact, even skin-to-skin contact a year ago and you’re a little worried — come in, get tested.” 

Two vaccines students can consider are the Hepatitis B vaccine and the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. 

 

What sexual health services does SFU Health & Counselling offer students?

SFU students can call or visit Health & Counselling to book an appointment with a nurse or doctor, receive sexual health resources and information, update their vaccines, and more. 

Students can be prescribed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for free. PrEP and PEP are medications that prevent HIV, usually taken by those who are at risk of being exposed to the virus. PrEP is a daily medication someone can preemptively take, to reduce the risk of contracting HIV if exposed to it. PEP is an emergency treatment for someone who may have already been exposed to HIV, beginning within 72 hours of the potential exposure. It’s important to note anyone can contract HIV

Other services Health & Counselling offer include getting pap or smear tests done, exploring contraceptive options like IUDs, Nexplanon, oral contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and providing condoms, dental dams, and lube. Emergency contraceptives, like Plan B, and STI medications can also be found at Health & Counselling. 

“The STI meds are available, the emergency contraception is $15, and if someone needs it and they can’t afford it, we will just provide it, it’s not a big deal.” 

 

How does Health & Counselling support the sexual health of all SFU students?

“We, as a clinic, are inclusive to all populations and are working very hard to make that true with ongoing education,” said Nurse Barb. “We recognize diversity in our student body. The doctors, nurses, registered nurses, mental health nurses, and counsellors have all been taking courses, becoming educated, to support students [ . . . ] Our counselling team worked with Out on Campus to develop and present radical self-care groups a few summers ago.” 

Nurse Barb added she would love to hear from the SFU community on how Health & Counselling could better serve SFU students. In addition to the services and resources mentioned above, Health & Counselling also offers assistance with hormone therapy injections for transitioning students. Good resources outside of SFU include TransCare BC, the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), and Options for Sexual Health.

 

What is the most common STI?

Chlamydia is one of the most commonly reported STIs at SFU and in BC: in 2017, 15,426 cases of chlamydia were reported. HPV is also very common, with a 2004 study reporting 17% of BC women between 15 and 69 years old had it. When asked why chlamydia is so common, Nurse Barb noted it’s very easy to test for chlamydia and the tests are incredibly accurate. Additionally, chlamydia may be asymptomatic. Since the urine test is so easy, it is done very often. Nurse Barb explains, “If somebody is 25 and older, like females getting pap-tests, we’ll just do a chlamydia and gonorrhea test. Someone who comes in and has vague symptoms, we’ll do a chlamydia and gonorrhea test. Anybody starting a new relationship, we’ll do a chlamydia and gonorrhea test.”

 

I just got a cold sore for the first time — what do I do?

First, go to Health & Counselling to get it checked out and get tested. Nurse Barb encourages students who test positive for herpes to not panic. “I just like to reassure people that [ . . . ] if they have reoccurring outbreaks, it can be controlled. And over time, the virus weakens and outbreaks are less, and really, life does go on.” Additionally, there are prescription options to help treat outbreaks that doctors at Health & Counselling can prescribe. 

 

What’s the best way to talk to my partner about STIs?

It’s important to discuss factors like STI testing, condom use, birth control, vaccines, and COVID-19 with partners, for everyone’s safety. Nurse Barb stressed the importance of self-awareness and honesty. She said the important things are asking yourself whether you’re comfortable having sex, finding out more about contraception and STI prevention, and gauging whether you’re comfortable discussing these topics with your partner.

I’m curious about learning more. What can I do?

Nurse Barb is always happy to answer students’ questions about STIs and sexual health options, either in-person or via phone. Additionally, there are a number of good resources students can check out, including Health Initiatives for Men, Options for Sexual Health, and Smart Sex Resource.

Thank you to Nurse Barb Chick from Health & Counselling for sitting down with The Peak to discuss these topics, and for all the great resources provided! 

For more information on services Health & Counselling services, you can visit their website at https://www.sfu.ca/students/health/ or follow them on Instagram or Twitter @sfuhcs

 

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