Primary Health Care brings free STD testing to campus


Multiple times per year, the Primary Healthcare Clinic (PHC) in Ames provides free STD testing, including an HIV test. During the semester, PHC brings its mobile testing unit to campus to give students more access to testing. 

Keegan Kearney

Primary Health Care’s new mobile testing unit made its debut on campus Wednesday as a part of Green Dot Action Week, giving free screenings for HIV and STI testing to students in an effort to promote normalization of regular sexual health checkups.

Students waited in line at the Memorial Union’s West entrance from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the checkups, which took roughly 10 to 15 minutes per person.

“I’m thrilled about the line already,” said Brian Vanderheyden, Student Wellness Manager and event coordinator for the screenings.

According to Vanderheyden, approximately one in two sexually active people in the U.S. will become infected with an STD at some point in their lives, a statistic which many people— especially young people with less sexual experience — aren’t aware of.

This is why Primary Health Care hopes their presence on campus will be educational for students, even those who don’t feel comfortable getting tested at the mobile unit for fear of being recognized by their peers while waiting in line.

Having the mobile unit in public spaces is also an attempt to normalize good sexual health practices, said Vanderheyden.

“Sometimes there’s a stigma around testing, and when you can put it out and you can have an event about it, it just becomes a normal part of the culture, and that’s what we want to promote,” he said.

The event was an effort between Thielen Student Health Center and Primary Health Care, a non-profit that provides medical services for underserved communities in the Des Moines area. They offer medical checkups, dental appointments, Title IX training, substance abuse programs and sexual health checkups as well as other essential medical practices.

The organization also has an office on Lincoln Way in Ames.

The mobile testing unit is a new addition to Primary Health Care’s range of services. The unit holds a small lobby for patients and two private screening rooms for the HIV testing, which is run by Primary Health Care’s Prevention Services Manager Heather Smith, who explained the testing process to patients in the lobby of the unit.

She said the HIV testing is done on site — blood is taken from a finger prick and placed in two dye solutions to test for reactivity. A negative test is a clear sign that the patient has not been infected with HIV in the last eight weeks, but a positive result is not a confirmation of infection. Positive reactivity requires further lab testing to know for sure whether the patient is infected.

For further STD testing, the patient is asked to take either a urine sample or a mouth or anal swab in order to test the common areas of infection. These results require analysis in a laboratory and are relayed to patients at a later date.

The STD screening tests for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, which were made a priority at this event because they are some of the more prevalent infections in young people.

The planned events for the mobile testing unit can be found on Primary Health Care’s website, and patients can also receive a screening at their Ames location every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.