By: CECELIA ROEDER
“I don’t need a condom.”
According to Laura Hieronymus, nurse practitioner and Director of the Health and Wellness Center at IU South Bend, this is the most common myth about sexual heath that leads to STD and HIV infection in youth.
This kind of thinking is what leads to “many students come in with STDS and HIV.”
With the IU Official Enrollment Report reporting IUSB’s level of enrollment at 7,512, Hieronymus said, “With our student population, we definitely have people on this campus who have HIV, they just don’t know it.”
According WebMD, “Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV/AIDS weakens a person’s ability to fight infections.” While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, treatment is available.
“HIV does tend to settle into population groups,” said Amy Frazier, student nurse at IUSB.
Behaviors that can increase the risk of HIV include sharing needles and syringes and having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected with HIV or whose HIV status you don’t know, according to WebMD.
Another high-risk group is persons with numerous sexual partners, regardless of gender. Hieronymus said that while most students are unlikely to have large numbers of sexual partners, it still happens.
“Students tend to ‘hook up’,” Hieronymus said, “but they need to be sure they’re using protection.”
“This really needs to resonate in [students’] minds,” Frazier said. She said she likes to tell patients that “the room should get smaller” before engaging in sexual activity.
“When you’re having sex, you’re really having sex with the people they’ve had sex with. It’s not as much fun when you imagine yourself in a room with all these people hanging around.”
Hieronymus added that, after the Indianapolis area, St. Joseph County was the second highest place in the state for HIV infection.
In response to the threat of the illness, the IUSB Health and Wellness center is taking sexual health and HIV awareness seriously.
The Health and Wellness Center teams up with Aids Ministries, bringing free HIV testing to campus. Every first Tuesday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. students can visit the Health and Wellness Center in SAC 130 for confidential testing.
“We’re often busier at the start of the semester,” said Kari Andert, office manager at the Health and Wellness center. “At the start of the semester, we might be full, but towards the end, we might only get 2 or 3 students.”
Andert stressed that the process is confidential.
“Students ring on the doorbell. We set them up with Aids Ministries,” said Andert. The Health and Wellness center is only involved at a minimal level.
“Be sure, get tested,” Andert said, “no matter what. Even if you’ve had the same partner.”
For more information, Hieronymus suggested goaskalice.columbia.edu.
“They’ve got everything, from HIV to STDs to partner abuse… it’s a great place.”
She also recommended WebMD as a great resource for reliable, research based information.
Frazier also suggested WebMD, but cautioned the tendency to “self-diagnose.”
“People will get on [WebMD] and think they’re dying of a Mediterranean illness and never have been there. Web MD can’t replace a primary health care provider.”
Anyone can also contact Aids Ministries at (574) 234-2870 for free HIV testing at any time. The Health and Wellness center is open to students Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4:30 p.m, and by phone at 520-5557.