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24 March 2003
Taking The Risk Out Of Spring Break
by George Atkinson

As MTV gears up its promotion of yet another series of "uncensored" spring break broadcasts, the University of Vermont Center for Health & Wellbeing is working hard to reduce the fallout from destructive behavior associated with students' annual southern treks and the free-flowing sex, alcohol, drugs and sun they encounter.

"Though many students will be with family, working or participating in alternative spring break programs, this can be a risky time for students taking part in traditional spring break trips," said Jon Porter, M.D., medical director of the Center for Health & Wellbeing and assistant professor of family practice at the University of Vermont. "We tend to see the consequences of some of these risky behaviors in the weeks after their return to campus."

The Center for Health & Wellbeing hopes to prevent the consequences of spring break before they occur. Today through Wednesday - just a few days before the start of the University's break - the campus student center features a "Safe Spring Break" table. In addition, Center for Health & Wellbeing, Residence Life and Student Life staff will be reciting a "stay safe" mantra that includes education about alcohol poisoning, date rape, safe sex, safe sun, and substance abuse.

According to Center for Health & Wellbeing Director Estelle Maartmann-Moe, a nurse practitioner and adjunct assistant professor of nursing, many students get one-on-one advice in the clinic before Spring Break begins. The Center's Health Promotion Services office offers the following Safe Spring Break tips:

Don't Drink To Death

  • Alcohol poisoning can cause brain damage and lead to death. Being drunk puts you at greater risk of assault or robbery.
  • If you must drink, limit consumption to one beer/standard mixed drink per hour for men and one per hour and a half for women. Don't drink on an empty stomach.
  • Drink water, juice or sodas in between
  • Do not mix different types of alcohol; if you are drinking beer, stick to beer.
  • Pay attention to your reactions. If you feel nauseous, are slurring your words, or are having difficulty walking, stop drinking immediately.

Beware Of Date Rape Drugs

  • Sedatives like GHB and Rohypnol can be slipped into a drink without anyone noticing. This dangerous combination can result in rape, assault, coma or even death.
  • Never leave your drink unattended at a bar or party.
  • Never accept drinks from individuals you do not know and trust.
  • Do not drink from open containers at parties, and accept drinks only if you've seen them opened and poured.
  • Bring your own drinks to parties if you can.
  • Discard your drink if it tastes or looks differently than it should - for example, salty, foamy, cloudy, or has residue in it.

Stay Out Of The Sun

  • A miserable sunburn can take the joy out of your vacation and even put you in the hospital.
  • Use a sweat-proof, waterproof lotion with at least an SPF 15. Reapply regularly.
  • Apply sunscreen all over your body before you go out for the day, even if you're not going directly to the beach, to ensure full coverage.

Use Latex Condoms

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission, Chlamydia, genital herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if used correctly and consistently. Condoms have also been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer - which is associated with HPV (human papillomavirus). Abstinence is the only way to avoid contracting HPV infection.

HPV is the most prevalent of all STIs, with an estimated 5.5 million new cases arising in the United States each year. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that an estimated 24 million Americans may be infected with HPV, though some may not experience any symptoms. Now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer, HPV may also cause genital warts and/or vaginal, penile, anal and throat cancer.

The University of Vermont has established a reputation for tackling the issue of HPV head-on. The American Cancer Society's new Pap test guidelines are based on a 1999 study published in Pediatrics by Sharon Mount, M.D., associate professor of pathology. Currently, pathology researchers are conducting a statewide HPV education study and the University is a site in a multi-center phase III HPV vaccine trial.

For students who have not practiced safe behavior over Spring Break, returning to campus may mean having to deal with an STI, unplanned pregnancy, or other medical problems.

"We strongly recommend that students who have participated in any risky behaviors go to the student health clinic immediately to undergo confidential testing and/or receive counseling," said Maartmann-Moe.

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