College Students Expose Themselves to the Dangers of Sexually Transmitted Diseases


BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- College students across the country are engaging in activities that may put them at risk for contracting serious infectious diseases, according to a national survey released today by the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM).

According to the survey of college students living away from home, more than half (56 percent) has been sexually active while at college. Of these, a majority (73 percent) reported having unprotected sex, increasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD). The survey also revealed a low level of awareness of the symptoms of hepatitis B -- a serious, potentially cancer-causing infection of the liver that can be prevented through a three-shot vaccination series -- something more than a third of students polled did not know. To educate the nearly 4 million teenagers that will head off to college this fall and their parents, SAM is launching a national media awareness campaign, which includes distribution of a free college health booklet highlighting the importance of preventing infectious diseases through vaccination.

"Hepatitis B is one of the only STDs that is vaccine-preventable," said Dr. James Farrow of SAM. "Parents may not have as much control over their child's life once they leave home, but they can protect them through vaccination before the school semester begins. While routine vaccination against hepatitis B for infants has occurred since 1991, many teens born prior to this date may have been missed. We highly recommend for those teens that have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B to be caught up."

Nearly all students surveyed (95 percent) agree that college students do things on campus or with other students that they would never want their parents to know about. Additionally, more than half (52 percent) admit that they would never have participated in some of these activities if they were living at home while attending college.

Furthermore, although 1 in 5 college students knows someone who has contracted an STD while attending college, 68 percent of those students who have had unprotected sex while in college do not believe they are at risk for contracting an STD. In fact, almost half of all sexually active students (49 percent) have never been tested for one.

Hepatitis B can be spread not only through sexual activity, but also through body piercings, tattooing, sharing a razor or toothbrush, and contact sports. According to survey findings, these are all common practices among college students. If a contaminated needle is unknowingly used to apply a tattoo or piercing, adolescents and young adults could put themselves at risk for contracting hepatitis B. Similarly, if a teen uses a razor or toothbrush borrowed from a contaminated individual, he or she could become infected with hepatitis B. Forty percent of college students either have a tattoo or body piercing or are likely to get one before they graduate. In addition, one-third of college students admitted to sharing either a razor or toothbrush with a roommate, partner or friend, also putting them at risk for contracting the disease.

While many students put themselves at risk for contracting hepatitis B, survey results underscore that a lot of college students are not well informed on how to protect themselves through vaccination. Almost all (92 percent) of the students surveyed have heard of hepatitis B; however, more than half (52 percent) either weren't protected through vaccination or didn't know if they were protected against it.

In an effort to educate parents about the ways they can protect their children before sending them off to college, SAM has developed a free health booklet written by Dr. Lawrence Neinstein, a leading specialist in adolescent healthcare, with a commentary by Helen Johnson, parenting expert and co-author of "Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years." The booklet includes information on the potential health and lifestyle risks that teenagers might encounter in college, while also providing tips and advice on what parents can do to feel more secure and involved in their child's well being.

The health booklet titled, "The Healthy Student: A Parent's Guide to Preparing Teens for the College Years," is available electronically on the SAM web site at

Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening viral liver disease. In fact, the hepatitis B virus can be 100 times more infectious than HIV in some settings. Over one million people in the United States are chronically infected with hepatitis B. The disease is spread by contact with body fluids of an infected person, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. It can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.

The Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM), founded in 1968, is the only multidisciplinary professional healthcare organization in the United States exclusively committed to improving the physical and psychosocial health and well-being of adolescents. Its principal activities include the development, synthesis, and dissemination of scientific and scholarly knowledge unique to the health needs of adolescents; professional development of students, trainees, and practicing clinicians around adolescent health; as well as advocating on behalf of adolescents. Advocacy efforts are supported through local, state, and national public and private efforts to develop comprehensive, acute, chronic, and preventive health services for youth.

This survey, conducted by Harris Interactive between April 24, 2003 and May 8, 2003, was completed using an online survey among full-time college students at four-year institutions, living away from home, aged 18 to 22 years. Those surveyed included 516 students nationally. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The survey was funded by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline.

Source: The Society for Adolescent Medicine

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