By RACHEL LEVEN
ANNAPOLIS (April 8, 2010)—When Jessica Silverman started at Frostburg State University, sexually transmitted diseases weren't "real" to her. But when Silverman's friend approached her thinking she might be infected, the far off concept became an immediate reality.
"I just kept telling her, it's not the end of the world," said Silverman, now a sophomore and starting her own campus awareness group. "Even if it is the worst outcome, you are taking the best necessary step to move forward."
Silverman's friend got tested out of necessity, but MTV Networks, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are holding their second annual Get Yourself Tested campaign this month to increase early testing for sexually transmitted diseases as a preventative measure.
These organizations and other partners, such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, have created a sweepstakes for those who pledge to get tested during National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month.
The campaign, which is geared towards a younger crowd, links interested people to local clinics where they can get tested by using a ZIP code to locate nearby health centers. The person is then linked to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database where they can find an office that offers the testing services they want.
They can submit their email or cellular phone number for a chance to attend and bring a friend to the 2010 MTV Movie Awards after finding a testing site they pledge to go to.
The Get Yourself Tested campaign is intended to generate a social movement about decreasing the stigma around safe-sex and sexual health practices.
One in two young people will get a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25, according to the campaign. But many won't know it. People under 25 account for half of the estimated 19 million diagnosed sexually transmitted infections in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of 2007, Maryland had the 4th highest rate of reported AIDS cases and 5th highest estimated prevalence of AIDS, according to Maryland's Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration.
In Maryland, there were 1,394 cases of AIDS reported in 2007. All together, an estimated 15,652 Marylanders had AIDS.
In 2008, almost 25,000 Marylanders had chlamydia, and 6,666 had gonorrhea.
"It's a really great opportunity to try to get the message out to young people. It's really important that young people get tested," said William Honablew Jr., chief of Policy and Public Information for Maryland's Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration. "And it's really important that if they are found to be positive that they (get treated) as soon as possible."
Honablew said his department supports the movement and promotes it by telling students during presentations that the Web site, GYTNow.org, is an accurate and responsible resource to use.
The local clinics and health departments highlighted by the MTV campaign offer testing services year-round, even though the sweepstakes is only in April. Different clinics offer different types of testing and for different costs. Many of the more than 4,000 locations offer specified tests for free.
"I think the people who go on to the Web site and take the time to check it out, there's a pretty good chance they're going to do it," said Silverman. "If we can get them to check the Web site that's a really big step and we can at least get the ball rolling for the future."
Other than the Get Yourself Tested Web site, which addresses youth in a way that appeals to them, MTV Networks has a television station that reaches youth the department might not have access to, Honablew said.
MTV Networks promotes the campaign with celebrity commercials and plays campaign specials about sexual health.
Last year's campaign resulted in a 36 percent increase in men coming in for testing at Planned Parenthood health centers, and an 18 percent increase for women. There were 30 and 20 percent increases respectively in African-American and Latina testing at the Planned Parenthood centers, according to MTV Networks.
This year the campaign aims to get more youth tested and educated about sexually transmitted diseases.
"There's a big problem with STDs at my school and in Western Maryland," said Silverman who will appear on an MTV special for the campaign. "I mean, everyone should care about their health and there are some serious consequences if you don't. I've witnessed that first hand."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.