University Health Services

Syphilis has been on the rise in Travis County over the past few years, but the disease has not increased to the same extent at the University. 

Reported cases of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that’s often spread through unprotected sex, increased in Travis County by 68 percent between 2006 and 2013. 

Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services reported 81 syphilis cases in 2006 and 136 cases in 2013. 

UT did not see any reported cases at University Health Services in 2006, but in 2013, there were seven. UHS nurse practitioner Sherry Guyton said seven cases in a campus with over 50,000 students is still relatively insignificant.

Guyton said one reason UT has not experienced an outbreak of syphilis cases might be UHS’ efforts to prevent STDs on campus. Cases that do occur, Guyton said, might arise because of alcohol use that leads to unsafe sex or as a result of students’ reluctance to ask their partners if they carry an STD. 

“There still are a lot of students who, for some reason or another, don’t think it’s going to happen to them and aren’t as careful as they might be,” Guyton said. “It’s probably more often related to partying and just not being as careful with condoms.”

UHS program coordinator Sherry Bell said UHS does not know why the number of cases increased between 2006 and 2013.  

Additionally, 53.7 percent of Travis County’s cases in 2012 occurred in people between the ages of 20 and 34, which matches the age range of many students at UT.

“That’s the age where people are maybe not even necessarily very promiscuous, but in the age where people are trying to find people who they are going to be with for longer-term relationships and are more likely to have more sex partners,” Guyton said. “The more partners you have, the more risk there is.”  

The report found that 94 percent of syphilis cases in 2012 in Travis County occurred in males. At UT, all syphilis cases in 2012 occurred in males. Over the eight-year period, males accounted for 95 percent of all cases at UT.  The report also found that a large percentage of those who contracted syphilis were men who have sex with men. In almost half of those cases, the men also had HIV.

Phil Huang, medical director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services said he attributes the increase of syphilis in the county to the prevalence of dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr.

“We are concerned about social media apps that are out there, especially in the men who have sex with men [category],” Huang said. “These facilitate the opportunity for people to have large numbers of sexual partners, anonymous sex partners … and unprotected sex.”

UHS health education coordinator Susan Kirtz said UHS prevention programs are inclusive to all genders and sexual orientations.

“We don’t have anything in particular that targets that [population of men who have sex with men],” Kirtz said. “It’s possible that more targeted programs could roll out in the future, but right now, our programs are pretty inclusive.”

Although Gov. Rick Perry established an infectious disease task force to handle the state’s response to Ebola, the University also has its own Infectious Disease Plan Annex in place to implement precautions and decide what to do in case of a possible Ebola outbreak on campus. 

Coordinating responses from several campus organizations, the plan provides guidelines for the University to reduce the spread of an infectious disease and its social and economic effects on campus. The plan is designed to be easily changed depending on which disease it is in response to and the possible effects that disease could have. According to James Tai, interim co-medical director with University Health Services, University officials met Monday to discuss how the plan would adapt to a possible Ebola outbreak on campus. 

Tai said UHS began implementing precautions when Ebola first started affecting people in West Africa, including conducting screening surveys and changing its internal policies to make staff aware of certain symptoms of the virus. UHS has also developed fact sheets about Ebola, screened students coming from West Africa for possible risk factors and changed its telephone triage policies to ask more questions about recent travel, Tai said. 

“The first thing we would do is put information out about health care, hand washing and general conditions,” Tai said. “If the illness spread in Texas, we would look at how we handle triage and phone calls related to the disease. If it moved to the city, we would look at making sure first responders have appropriate protective equipment, satellite clinics and that kind of stuff.”

Bob Harkins, associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said the University has created previous plans for diseases such as SARS, influenza and mumps, and would follow state and federal recommendations in the event of an Ebola outbreak. 

“We’ll meet and look at Ebola, and the main question is: If it comes to Austin, what would we do?” Harkins said. “We’d follow what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the state lays out as a good Ebola plan and say, ‘How does that fit into our stages?’ There’s no vaccine for it — it’s not like you can get a flu shot — so we could only react to it.”

Harkins said a response to Ebola would depend on where and how students were affected. 

“If a case was reported, say, for students in a class, we’d interview and monitor students in that class,” Harkins said. “If it was in a residence hall, the circumstances would differ — we’d have to disinfect the hall and move students out.”

Tai said UHS’ response to an outbreak of Ebola would depend on the number of people affected by the virus and its severity. 

“It would depend on whether it’s a new infection and if people have immunity to it or not and what the effects of the virus are,” Tai said. “Obviously, if it has a higher mortality rate and affects more people, that’s going to be more alarming.”

The University’s approach to Ebola would be slightly different from previous plans because the virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, not through respiratory contact, Tai said. 

“We’d use personal protective equipment, which involves goggles, face shields, gowns and gloves, which are the same precautions they would follow for a virus like this in a hospital,” Tai said.

Harkins said the plan coordinates responses from Environmental Health and Safety, the UT Police Department, University Health Services and the Division of Housing and Food Services, along with other campus organizations. 

“We’re a group of organizations that plans infectious disease response and monitors things — if we need to meet, we’ll meet,” Harkins said. “A lot of what we do is dictated by the feds and state, and then there’s an independent response on campus to figure out, ‘What does Facilities have to do?’ There’s a response with [the Division of Housing and Food Services], with global response and with the state. We try and monitor what’s going on campus and with the System.”

The plan divides responses into five stages numbered zero through four, with each stage implementing increased precautions as the disease spreads and gets geographically closer to campus. Level 0 involves the identification of a new virus that has not been transmitted between humans. Level 1 happens with the first confirmed case of human-to-human transmission of the virus worldwide, Level 2 is when the disease is passed between humans in the U.S., Canada or Mexico, and Level 3 when the disease is passed between humans in Texas. Level 4, the last stage, occurs with the first confirmed case of human-to-human transmission of the virus in Austin, Travis County or Central Texas. 

University spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the University would follow state health department guidelines in informing students of an Ebola outbreak on campus. 

“[The state department] would direct the University as to what we should communicate to students,” Weldon said. “They’re going to be very prescriptive in who we communicate with and what we say.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The last week of school is often the most stressful for students, and a potential side effect of that stress is shingles, according to Theresa Spalding, University Health Services medical director.

Shingles, a skin rash caused by the same virus responsible for chicken pox that affects approximately 1 million people in the U.S. each year, is most common in adults older than 60, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website.

“[Shingles is] unusual in the younger-aged population, but we actually do see it a fair amount,” Spalding said. “We see it a lot with stress. That tends to bring it out.”

Since September, UHS has diagnosed 50 cases of shingles, which is near its average of 63 to 70 yearly cases since 2010, Spalding said. She said physical illness or mental stress can lower the body’s resistance to viruses.

Chris Sullivan, molecular biosciences associate professor, said a variety of genetic and environmental factors such as stress, diet or other infections can contribute to the virus.

Sullivan said people often don’t get shingles until later in life because many of them have had chicken pox, so their bodies have already developed an adaptive immune response.

Sullivan said, after someone has chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in that person’s body.

“It kind of crawls back into a neuron, and it’ll stay there the rest of your life, but, for some people, later in life … it crawls back out,” Sullivan said.

Devin Tayne, a history and art history senior who currently has shingles on her arm, said a doctor diagnosed her with the disease on Thursday, forcing her to take time off work to recover.

“Taking off so much work — that’s like $200-plus that I won’t be getting, so that’s stressful,” Tayne said. “Being the last week of school and not being able to work for such a long time is just adding stress. It’s funny — stress is what opened up the opportunity for me to get the shingles.”

Tayne said the virus has also made it difficult for her to type and drive.

“It kind of feels … like I pulled my muscles,” Tayne said. “It’s more of a really irritating pain more than anything.”

Photo Credit: Crystal Marie Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Many students remain unaware of a policy that allows students to report alcohol-related emergencies without facing disciplinary action.

Although there are more students aware of the University Health Services’ alcohol amnesty policy this year than last year, the number of informed students remains low, according to results released from a survey distributed to students before spring break.

The Student Amnesty for Alcohol Emergencies program, set up in 2008, is currently being “relaunched” after UHS found that many students were still afraid to report alcohol-related emergencies because of the possibility of getting in trouble.

According to Frances Nguyen, health promotion coordinator at University Health Services, many students, when told about the policy, dismissed it as being too good to be true.

“A lot of what we found in our research is a lot of students have heard about it but don’t believe it exists,” Nguyen said.

In fall 2013, the National College Health Assessment found that only 6 percent of UT students surveyed knew about the amnesty program. Before spring break, UHS distributed a second survey and found 13.9 percent of the 724 students who completed the survey were familiar with the policy.

“It’s something that exists and we really want students to know about it,” Nguyen said. “It reduces that barrier that when students call 911, that should be their first reaction instead of worrying about what the disciplinary action should be.”

According to Jason Thibodeaux, director of Student Judicial Services, there were 199 cases involving alcohol on campus, and of those cases, 11 were deemed eligible for the amnesty program. He said most disciplinary action is taken when students in residence halls are left alone because their friends do not report the situation.

“If the people had reached out for help first, it wouldn’t be a disciplinary issue,” Thibodeaux said. 

Thibodeaux said the low numbers of reports are due to the lack of students who are aware of the program. 

“Honestly, when we meet with students they don’t even know about this amnesty policy until we bring it up,” Thibodeaux said. “We would be more than happy to have many situations of the policy. We’re not out to get people.”

Student Judicial Services and University Health Services will be working together through the summer to raise awareness of the policy among first year students and will attempt to make the program better known in the fall.

Jessica Duncan Cance, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and health education, said the re-launch of the program would also give the University an opportunity to educate students about the signs of alcohol overdose.

“It’s a very thin yet scary line that takes somebody from being drunk to potentially at risk of an alcohol overdose,” Cance said.

Cance, who is a co-chair of UT’s Wellness Network’s High-Risk Drinking Prevention committee, said the students should know the signs of alcohol poisoning. According to Cance, the committee has been working to educate more students about the amnesty policy this semester.

Cance said signs of alcohol overdose include mental confusion, gasping for air, paleness of the skin and throwing up.

“Just like you know you should wear a seat belt every time you get in the car, this should be information that is just part of your sub-consciousness,” Cance said.

Cance said the amnesty policy should make students more willing to report alcohol related emergencies and make them less worried about the consequences.

“It’s better to have a friend be mad at you than to have a friend who has an extreme medical emergency,” Cance said. “That’s a much better thing to have to deal with than to have a death or somebody hospitalized because they had too much to drink.”

Despite this year’s flu season affecting younger and middle-aged adults more, officials at University Health Services, better known as UHS, say the number of influenza-related cases they treated this year are lower than last year.

Since January 2014, UHS reported 27 influenza-related cases compared to 99 cases reported at the same time last year, according to UHS Medical Director Theresa Spalding. Spalding said she hopes UHS’s flu shot campaign is helping keep the number of cases down.

“Hopefully, it’s just more of the students are taking more precautions and being more aware,” Spalding said.

At the end of February, the City of Austin reported 19 deaths from influenza, 11 of whom were under the age of 60. 

Influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B viruses have all been identified in the U.S. this flu season, with H1N1 viruses predominating, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said the 2009 H1N1 does seem to affect younger adults, especially pregnant women and those with chronic conditions, more severely than other age groups because of their lack of exposure to similar strains.

“Typically, seasonal flu affects those that are older and the very young children more severely,” Huang said. “This particular strain is similar to some that have been seen in the past in that some of the older populations have developed some immunity to some of the H1N1 components.”

Undergraduate studies sophomore Bryan Luedecke said he got vaccinated early in the semester at UHS to avoid getting sick.

“I think vaccinations are extremely important because they not only protect you, the degree to which is debatable, but they also protect others from the flu,” Luedecke said. “If people aren’t getting vaccinated, it creates problems for you and those unvaccinated people around you.”

Members of UT’s Queer Students Alliance are working on legislation with the goal of convincing University administrators to expand health care benefits available for transgender students. 

Legislation author Devon Howard, women’s and gender studies junior, said the ultimate goal of the legislation is expanded medical services for transgender students, including hormonal treatments, gender reassignment surgeries and mental health counseling covered by the University.

“It’s really important that we address the needs of students and what they need to transition to not only feel comfortable with their body, but to be able to function and get a good education at the University,” Howard said. 

According to national nonprofit organization Campus Pride, many of UT’s peer universities, including the University of California system, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign cover hormone and gender reassignment services for students. 

UT does not offer these services because of the expenses associated with specialized medical care, according to Theresa Spalding, medical director for University Health Services. Spalding said the University does offer general medical care for all transgender students, including pap smears for students who identify as male, and said the University is committed to working with transgender students as much as possible.  

“It would be wonderful if we could provide all services to all patients, but we just don’t have the ability to do all that,” Spalding said. “Trying to be as gender neutral as possible is what we try to do.”

Spalding said the University does offer many resources for mental health to all students, including students who may be suffering from depression as a result of the stigmas associated with gender identity issues.

“Mental-health services wise, we have a lot that we offer,” Spalding said.

Currently, the insurance plan available for students to purchase, offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield, meets the minimum essential health requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance coverage for one year is $1,432 per student. 

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, the director of Human Resource Services, said employee healthcare coverage does not include gender reassignment. 

“Certain treatments may be covered if the absence of that treatment would cause a decline in their physical health,” Howarth-Moore said. “Gender reassignment in general is not currently covered because that is currently not considered medically necessary.”

Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance, said many students do not understand certain transgender students’ desire for sex-related surgeries.

“It’s not something most people can understand,” Kent said. “Nobody really understands the pain and the struggle [of] living in a body they feel like is not even their own.”

Howard said although some students may view gender reassignment surgeries as purely cosmetic, for some transgender individuals, medical intervention is a critical issue.  

“A lot of people see these surgeries as something that is elective and it’s not,” Howard said. “It’s something that needs to be done for survival.”

The alliance already passed a resolution for gender inclusive housing through Student Government, and Kent said she hopes SG members are equally receptive to the transgender health care benefits resolution. 

“We are definitely taking steps in the right direction, but transgender health benefits is our biggest focus,” Kent said. 

Once the resolution is  written, it will be sent to SG for a vote. If the resolution passes, it will be sent to the UT System Board of Regents, who are under no obligation to act.  

“It’s really problematic because we are ranked one of the most liberal and forward-thinking universities in the world, but we don’t have a lot of things other universities have,” Kent said. 

The alliance will hold a town hall meeting Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Room 420 in Waggener Hall for students to give their input on the resolution.

Update: This article has been clarified from the original version. Adrienne Howarth-Moore is the director of Human Resource Services, an office under University Operations which deals with employee health benefits.

October marks the beginning of flu season, accompanied annually by a flurry of sniffy noses and 100-degree fevers.

Starting Monday, University Health Services will offer flu shots to UT students, faculty and staff on select dates through Oct. 17.

The flu shot service is free for students who have insurance — except Health Maintenance Organization plans, plans with insurance companies based outside the U.S. and governmental plans — and faculty and staff who have UT Select insurance. Other students, faculty and staff can be vaccinated for $10.

Last year, UHS vaccinated a total of 5,400 students and 3,400 faculty and staff, according to Sherry Bell, UHS senior program coordinator, who is leading the flu shot campaign. 

Theresa Spalding, medical director at UHS, said she sees the most students come in after Thanksgiving and winter break, peaking in February. Spalding said the department’s strategy is to vaccinate as many students as possible to avoid the spread of the flu.

“If by chance, someone [is] exposed to the virus [after vaccination], they won’t get it and they won’t spread it,” Spalding said.

Rachel York, a youth and community studies junior, received a flu vaccine last year. York said she plans to get vaccinated again this fall.

“I used to always get the flu when I didn’t get the flu shot, and ever since I got the shot, I don’t get the flu so I make sure to get it,” York said. 

Business freshman Fariha Hossain said she gets vaccinated approximately every other year and plans to visit UHS sometime this week to get the flu vaccine.

“I have a really weak immune system,” Hossain said. “I get sick when the weather changes rapidly.”

Some students don’t believe the flu shot helps them avoid the flu.

“I only get it if I’m required to,” biology freshman Marcia Rondonuwu said. “In high school, I was in a premed program. Because I volunteered at a hospital, I was required to get a flu shot.”

Despite some students’ claims regarding the flu vaccine’s inefficiency, UHS said it offers the vaccines in the best interest of the students. 

“We’re here to keep students healthy so they can perform well academically and in their personal lives,” Bell said. “Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu.”

A full schedule of vaccination dates, information about the flu and flu symptoms can be found at healthyhorns.utexas.edu.

Say the word “free” and every college student will come running, which is exactly what they did at Healthyhorns Fest, hosted by University Health Services at Gregory Plaza on Wednesday .

Free apples, hand sanitizer, T-shirts, pocket first aid kits and water bottles were easy to snag but the most popular booth was Sex Trivia, where students received free condoms upon answering questions correctly.

University Health Services provided students with a lot of information on how to stay healthy, said Susan Hochman, assistant director for public information and health promotion. 

The information included high-risk drinking prevention, their new “nap map” to show students the best places to sleep around campus and their flu shot campaign that starts Sept. 24 . 

“University Health Services is here to prevent health-related issues from becoming a barrier in students’ academic performance,” Hochman said.

After conducting surveys, UHS discovered that the main reasons students suffer negative academic impact are colds, the flu and sore throat.

“The goal is for students to get to know the types of services that UHS offers, to know all the partners in health on campus and also maybe to learn something that will help them stay healthier and have a little fun,” said Sherry Bell, consumer education and outreach coordinator for University Health Services.

Students also demonstrated yoga, fencing and ballroom dancing on the steps of Gregory, and UTPD held a session.

The three UHS student volunteer programs — the clinic volunteer program, student health advisory committee and Healthyhorns peer educators — were some of the 100 volunteers who helped at the festival. 

Government junior Kevin Alcantar was an alcohol peer mentor last semester and is now a part of the revamped Healthyhorns peer educators program that allows students to get course credit and develop public health leadership skills.

“I had some family members who had trouble with alcohol and was personally motivated to educate as many students about the negative impacts alcohol can have in your life if you don’t have it under control,” Alcantar said.

Alcantar volunteered at various booths, similarly to other students in the program. Alcantar assisted at the Love Your Body  booth to encourage students to focus positively on themselves in addition to helping other tables at the fair.

The Student Health Advisory Committee also asked students if they felt like UHS would be successful doing dental care. The results from questions such as this are sent to UHS to give them feedback.

“It makes the relationship between health care and students closer,” health promotion senior Meredith Labrasca said. 

Labrasca said she was happy with the heavy traffic at the event and that it allowed organizations to get the publicity they deserve. 

This is the second year the Healthyhorns Fest has been at Gregory Plaza. 

Economics junior Cameron Crump sets out spring break kits at Gregory Plaza Wednesday afternoon. The kits consisted of various tools to keep students healthy and safe during the break.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Healthy horns know that preparation is key to playing safe.

An initiative by University Health Services aims to keep UT students free of potential harm over spring break by equipping them with a safety kit containing condoms, sunglasses, sunscreen and a water bottle. UHS tabled at Gregory Plaza Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to distribute the free kits. 

Chemistry and chemical engineering student Katie Madler said she heard about the distribution through word of mouth. 

“My friend told me to come,” Madler said. “I think it’s really realistic. It shows that UT at least knows what’s up.”

Students provided their EIDs and email addresses in exchange for kits.

Cameron Crump, an economics senior and healthy sexuality peer educator, said UHS collects students’ information and sends out an optional survey inquiring about their behavior during the break.

“We take the answers we receive from these surveys and decide what kind of program we should provide in the future,” said Crump. 

UHS selects healthy sexuality peer educators to help guide students toward living a healthier college lifestyle. Volunteers for the program must apply and take a credited course to be selected.

Jessica Wagner, manager at University Health Services, said this particular program has become an annual tradition since its start six years ago.

“It’s been popular with students each year, and we are constantly evaluating our efforts to make the kit contents relevant and beneficial.”

Undeclared sophomore Cody Smith said the tools provided are everything he needs while he spends the week at South Padre Island.

“I think it's cool,” Smith said. “I always forget to get the essential stuff. It's especially cool for guys because, you know, we don’t normally have lip balm or sunscreen.”

The Princeton Review ranked UHS as the third best college health service in the country for 2013. In addition to supplying about 3,000 kits this year, the service reaches out to students by hosting events throughout the year. Crump said they offer fun workshops regarding safe sex, healthy sexuality and sex trivia where students can also learn.

“I think we’re bringing about awareness,” Crump said. “It’s about having these things available instead of acquiring them so they can be safe.”

Published on March 7, 2013 as "UHS preps break survival kits". 

UT Health Education Coordinator Guli Fager describes ways to curb stress during mid-term season.
Photo Credit: Ben Chesnut | Daily Texan Staff

Peer-to-peer health education can improve performance in school, University Health Services representatives said in an annual health panel Thursday.

The Student Health Advisory Committee presented its third annual Town Hall, “Put the You in UHS,” in San Jacinto Residence Hall to encourage open discussion between students and a panel of health experts. The panel, consisting of state and UHS officials and educators, answered questions regarding insurance use at UHS, the Affordable Care Act, health leadership and the relationship between health and grades. Panel members discussed the use of insurance at UHS and the steps a student must take in order to receive medical coverage at UHS. UHS associate director LeAnn Gutierrez said students have experienced many changes since the Affordable Care Act was signed by President Barack Obama in March 2010. She said although the act requires insurance providers to cover 100 percent of preventive care services, some insurance agencies maintain “grandfathered” pre-existing coverage guidelines and do not follow guidelines set by the act.

“Different companies are going to interpret coverage guidelines in different ways,” Gutierrez said. “Students should try to get to know their insurance plan’s coverage as much as possible.”

Panel members also presented students with various leadership opportunities through UHS and stressed the importance of being health leaders on campus. Students may get involved with UHS in many ways, such as participating in the Clinical Volunteer Program, being a peer educator and volunteering in the Cashier and Insurance Department.

Texas Public Health preisdent Matt Haviland said getting involved with UHS and being a health leader on campus can help students find their role in society.

“People really do respond better to health information on a peer to peer basis,” Haviland said. “Students can become a driving force for health issues and policies by advocating to their peers the importance of being health conscious.”

The Student Health Advisory Committee, which relays student concerns and feedback to UHS administrators, is responsible for promoting UHS initiatives. Committee president Kevin Hou said the committee’s efforts this semester include staffing UHS’ flu shot campaign.

Hou said committee initiatives for annual Town Hall meetings were made to allow students transparent time with UHS administrative staff. He said it is crucial for students to be conscious of health initiatives because health and academic success are closely intertwined.

“Academic performance correlates so much with better health,” Hou said.

Printed on Friday, November 2, 2012 as: UHS talks healthy living, grades