A new study reports that diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in Italy, despite the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 lockdown.
At home, but frisky — people seem to be blowing off some steam from the quarantine the old-fashioned way. The findings were presented at the 29th European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Congress, EADV Virtual, held from the 27th to the 31st of October. According to the authors, there have been more diagnoses of STIs including gonorrhea, secondary syphilis, and mycoplasma genitalium (MG), since the lockdown started compared to previously.
More than was bargained for
“It was assumed that the lockdown would reduce the opportunity for sexual encounters and STIs. However, I was surprised by the number of new acute infections diagnosed in this short period of time. Gonorrhea and syphilis are typically more prevalent in people in their 30s, so infection may have increased because the concentration of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in the elderly made the younger, more active, cohort feel protected and so less risk averse,” explains lead author Dr. Marco Cusini, from the Clinic of Dermatology Milan.
“Whilst it is unrealistic to prevent people from having sex, even in this extraordinary pandemic, close contact during sexual intercourse inevitably involves an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 contagion.The findings show the importance of ongoing screening for STIs and the real benefit of having these types of services open and available during these unprecedented times.”
The research used data from two main STI centers in Milan, Italy. They compared the number of confirmed diagnoses of common STIs in patients with symptoms between 15 March and 14 April 2020 (following the introduction of lockdown measures) and compared those to the same data from 2019.
The results showed that, despite registering a significant drop in the total number of attendances (from 233 in 2019 vs 147 in 2020, a 37% drop), the number of confirmed acute bacterial infections increased compared to last year. However, the number of non-acute cases, such as genital warts and Molluscum contagiosum, fell.
Such findings, the team explains, showcase that the lockdown and advice on social and physical distancing didn’t inhibit risky sexual behavior associated with STIs. They’re particularly worrying since some STIs are becoming resistant to treatment all over the world. Gonorrhea, for example, is typically very susceptible to ceftriaxone, a common antibiotic, but resistant strains have popped up. This raises the need for new treatment guidelines, the authors argue, in order to prevent the pathogen from developing resistance to our last-line-of-defense antibiotics (such as azithromycin) as well.
All in all, this isn’t particularly good news. It’s a good idea to learn the tell-tale symptoms of the most common STIs out there and get checked if you have any cause for concern — be it during lockdown or not.
The findings are, obviously, limited to the city of Milan, but they might be an indication of how the rest of the world is faring; we are in this together, after all. However, more research will be needed to confirm or deny that hypothesis.