While some may think that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer people having sex and therefore fewer new cases of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), some health care professionals and sexual health advocates, including CAS, think that it could be exactly the opposite. Many sexual health testing clinics have closed their doors entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are only offering appointments to those who have been diagnosed with an STBBI or who are experiencing symptoms. The majority of STBBI do not have any symptoms, and those who are asymptomatic are more likely to be unknowingly spreading an STBBI. Therefore, by only testing people with symptoms, new cases of STBBI are likely to increase significantly during COVID-19.
Although it is important to minimize risks to healthcare workers and postpone any non-essential services, postponing routine STBBI testing could have serious long-term impacts on health. Even curable STBBI such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can, if left untreated, have long-term negative health such as pelvic inflammatory disease. HIV is a particular concern as the longer a person with HIV is left undiagnosed, the more serious effects it can have on their long-term health outcomes.
Even with physical distancing rules in place, it is vital that we take a harm reduction approach to sex during the COVID-19 pandemic and recognize that not everyone will be able to refrain from physical distancing in order to have sex. Stigma against those who cannot physically distance can dissuade people from accessing safer sex supplies such as condoms. We must continue to offer sexual health services, including routine STBBI testing, even during a period of great uncertainty.
Visit HIV411 for sexual health testing clinics across Canada and Portail VIH/Sida du Québec for testing sites specifically in Quebec (please note that HIV411 is in the process of being updated and Portail VIH/Sida du Québec’s list of sites is being continuously updated). There are also a couple of excellent resources about sex during COVID-19, such as this one from the New York City Health Department and these ones from RÉZO and the Health Initiative for Men that are specific to men who have sex with men.