Options for students to get tested on and off campus
Emma Drudge, News Contributor
A student answering his phone breaks the silence in the waiting room at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.
“Hello? I can’t talk right now, I’m in class.”
Sexually transmitted infections are just one of many reasons why people visit the Halifax Sexual Health Centre (HSHC). STIs are common in university towns and there are many local options for students to get tested and treated.
The HSHC is just one of those options, and the awkward silence in the waiting room doesn’t follow you into the office, where female physicians buzz around welcoming patients.
“There’s never any judgement,” says Angus Campbell, the executive director of the HSHC. “We want people to come back and see us if they need to.”
Of the 10,000 patients the HSHC sees each year, around 80 per cent are under 30 and many of them come from local universities, says Campbell. The centre is discreetly located on the second floor of the office building at Quinpool and Robie, a safe distance from campus for people who want to keep their appointment a secret.
The Dalhousie Health Services clinic on Coburg Road also has services for students to get tested and treated for STIs. They’re not specialized like the HSHC, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the expertise.
“Anybody working at a university health clinic, anywhere, is an (STI) expert,” says Glenn Andrea, the director of Dal Health Services.
Andrea says that herpes and genital warts are the most common STIs, and testing can be done visually in the clinic. Swabs or urine samples can also be taken to check for bacterial STIs.
“We have a problem right now with Chlamydia in young women aged 15-25 in Halifax,” says Campbell.
In fact, it was first on the list of the top five reported conditions in Nova Scotia in 2008, the most recent available data. Gonorrhea and Hepatitis C were also among the top five.
Andrea says that most STI treatments are really straightforward. It usually just involves some pills or medicated cream, depending on the disease. Most of the costs are covered by the Dal drug plan.
“If they can’t afford medication, I’ll send them to the STD Clinic,” he says, where he also works as a physician. The STD Clinic is in the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, and is only open for four hours each week.
The STD Clinic offers many STI medications free of charge. It’s also the only place in Halifax that treats syphilis, a much less common STI.
All three clinics provide STI tests for free and offer an anonymous service to help patients who test positive inform their sexual partners.
“We always talk to the patient and ask if they’re comfortable telling their partners,” says Andrea. He says that most people are, but if not they can have Nova Scotia Public Health make a call on their behalf. This way partners can be told they may have been in contact with an infection without disclosing who it came from.
The HSHC also offers anonymous HIV testing. Patients are assigned a unique identification number, and are never asked to reveal their real name.
With so many options available for students to take care of STIs, Andrea still says the best treatment is prevention.
“Put a condom in your back pocket, whether you’re a girl or a guy,” he says. “Talk to your partners, ask the question.”