3 Most Common STDs Among College Students

September 26, 2017
urgent care nurse examining female college student

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—also known as sexually transmitted infections— have become a major problem in America’s colleges, where unprotected sex and other potentially dangerous behaviors are commonplace. To help protect yourself or a loved one, it’s important to understand the facts about STDs, how they spread, and how to safeguard sexual health.

A Silent Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50% of the more than 20 million new STD cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. are among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. A large percentage of these cases occur among college students, who may underestimate the risks of having unprotected sex. Furthermore, STDs appear to be on the rise, particularly gonorrhea and syphilis.

With these shocking statistics in mind, let’s take a look at three of the most common STDs among college students and how to lower the risk of infection.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

The CDC says human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common type of STD on college campuses. The cause of genital warts, cervical cancer, and most types of genital cancers, HPV is an incurable virus that is highly transmissible through oral sex and sexual intercourse. It rarely causes noticeable symptoms, which makes the transmission rate extremely high.

Unlike most other types of STDs, HPV can be prevented through a two-dose vaccination. The first dose is ideally recommended for children between the ages of 11 and 12, but college-aged students and young adults can also benefit from getting vaccinated.


Chlamydia trachomatis is the next common form of STD among young people. Caused by a bacterial infection, chlamydia can result in permanent damage to reproductive organs if it’s left untreated. While antibiotic medications can be used to treat the infection, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for drug-resistant strains.

It’s important to promptly seek testing and treatment if you notice symptoms of chlamydia. This may involve:

  • Painful urination
  • Testicular pain or penis discharge in men
  • Pain during sexual intercourse, bleeding in between periods or after sex, and unusual vaginal discharge in women


Herpes—or more specifically, HSV-2—is the third most common STD among young adults. According to the CDC, nearly 20% of all college students have the herpes virus. Spread through skin-to-skin contact, herpes is not curable, although medications can be used to reduce symptoms and lower the chances of spreading it to a partner.

The signs of herpes may occur 2 to 12 days after infection. Symptoms can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Painful urination
  • Small blisters or bumps around the genital area
  • Ulcers on the genital area that may turn into scabs
  • Unusual discharge

Symptoms may also occur on the inside of the mouth and skin on other areas of the body.

How to Prevent STDs

Unfortunately, the prevalence of STDs among young people has been underreported by the media, and many parents and college students remain unaware of the risks associated with unprotected sex. If you are a student, it’s important to use a latex condom or dental dam any time you engage in sexual activity. If you are the parent of a student, take the time to advise your child about the long-term consequences of not using protection and the significance of maintaining good sexual health.

The best way to avoid getting or spreading an STD is to practice total abstinence. However, this approach isn’t always realistic in a college atmosphere. Education, regular STD testing, and correct condom usage are the next best lines of defense against this silent epidemic on our nation’s campuses.

Here are a few other ways you can lower your STD risk:

  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV
  • Practice mutual monogamy or reduce your number of sexual partners
  • Avoid sharing towels and underwear
  • Avoid using drugs or drinking alcohol in excess

We’ve Got You

PhysicianOne Urgent Care is an affordable and convenient place to turn for STD tests and treatment. Our fully equipped urgent care locations throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York serve patients of all ages and offer a safe space to discuss symptoms and ask questions. We offer a full scope of STD testing on a walk-in or by-appointment basis during extended hours 365 days per year. In the event that you require ongoing care or treatment from a specialist, our team can refer you to the right clinician for your needs.

Visit a PhysicianOne Urgent Care location near you today for affordable and convenient STD testing and treatment. Can’t make it to a clinic? No worries—we offer 24/7 Virtual Visits. Our practice accepts many health insurance plans and offers reduced self-pay rates.

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