Rumors about sexually transmitted diseases at New Jersey universities, Rutgers in particular, have been circulating for years. Rutgers, considered a party school by some, has been rumored to have its own strain of gonorrhea and to have very high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in general. One anonymous Mercer student, when interviewed about the issue said, “…be careful when you go to the parties…you don’t want to hook up with any of those crazy Rutgers people.” Is there any truth to the rumors?
According to Dr. Melodee Laskey, M.D., Executive Director of Health Services at Rutgers University, “Rutgers does NOT have…higher levels [of STIs] than any other college or university.” As for having its own strain of gonorrhea, that urban legend is also “not not not not NOT true,” says Dr. Laskey emphatically.
According to Laskey, all of the rumors are “because of [the] study…” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998. The study Dr. Laskey refers to, researched the Human Papillomavirus (the most common STI) among 608 women attending Rutgers over a three year period prior to the release of the HPV vaccine. Although the study’s findings did not indicate Rutgers women were any more likely to have an STI than the average young female in the United States, misunderstandings about the research appear to have fostered the rumors.
The reality is that STI rates among teen and college aged women in the United States are high in general. As reported in the April 21, 2008 issue of the VOICE, a recent large-scale study showed that 25 percent of girls aged 14 to 19 may have an STI. The National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey showed that teen girls are experiencing an epidemic of STI’s with up to 3.2 million teen girls in total having a sexually transmitted infection nationwide.
The Rutgers study in 1998, as presented in a New England Journal of Medicine article, showed that approximately 20 percent of the females tested had HPV at the beginning of the study, with more than 60 percent contracting HPV by the study’s end.
While these numbers may frighten some, Dr. Laskey states that, “most of these [HPV] infections will have cleared quickly…And as [females] become sexually active, they are more likely to get HPV…so it’s kind of what you would expect.” But Laskey notes that it is also what you expect at “every other college campus.”
Laskey is sure of this because Rutgers “collect[s] data annually… ” This data is then submitted to the American College Health Association, who publishes the national survey of 128 colleges and universities (the results of the 2007 survey can be found by clicking the STI link on the College VOICE homepage at mcccvoice.org). The 2008 data was not yet available at press time.
Despite the rumors, Mercer students interviewed noted that they would not let STI prevalence on campuses determine their transfer college of choice. One student who asked to remain anonymous remarked: “I’m very cautious, whether I’m in a school environment or any other environment.”