All students test clean for one legendary campus ‘infection’

Some students say they heard of the “disease” in orientation, but Boynton experts say “Gopher warts” does not exist.

Eric Swanson

If one talks to students about sexual health issues, many will mention a sexually transmitted infection unique to the University campus: “Gopher warts.”

“I heard it was a strain unique to the University,” said first-year student Jeff Dockendorf, who said he first heard about the supposed STI when he was in high school. “I was told it was created because the University was a closed group of students only getting with each other.”

But according to University doctors and health experts, there is no such thing as Gopher warts.

Several students said they learned about the “condition” during first-year orientation, but the Orientation and First-Year Programs Office staff said they are not responsible for the urban myth.

“It’s not true. We don’t talk about it at orientation,” said Lisa Juhlin, assistant director for Orientation and First-Year Programs.

In the past, orientation sessions have included a slide with genital wart statistics, but Gopher warts has never been mentioned specifically, Juhlin said.

“We tell the orientation leaders the rumors aren’t true,” she said.

Still, several students said they learned of the disease during an orientation presentation on campus health issues.

“We were told at orientation that we have an individual strain called Gopher warts,” junior Carmen Regner said.

Former orientation leader Colleen Callahan said she was told not to tell students about the virus this past summer.

“I heard about it at orientation in 2001 when I was a freshman,” Callahan said. “They must have realized since then that they were wrong.”

Dave Dorman, community health specialist for Boynton Health Service, said he knows Gopher warts was not discussed in this year’s orientation sessions, but he believes the rumor started in past new-student orientations.

“Somehow (Gopher warts) was transformed into an urban myth,” Dorman said.

Boynton supplies orientation programs with information on genital warts, and he said the information must have been misinterpreted.

Dr. Marilyn Joseph, departmental director for Boynton Health Service, said although the Gopher warts STI is fictitious, human papillomavirus – the virus that causes genital warts – is the most common STI at the University.

“The issue is this: It is very common,” Joseph said. “You can have it, and it doesn’t necessarily show.”

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, several strains of human papillomavirus can develop into genital warts. Most strains have no symptoms, making it very difficult to identify, and there is no cure.

A 2001 Boynton Health Service survey found 1.3 percent of University students said they had genital warts or human papillomavirus.