Ahead of the further lifting of lockdown restrictions on Monday, May 17, HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) has issued new guidance to ensure rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) don’t return to pre-pandemic levels and help manage the risk of Covid-19.
The charity has released the new guidance and a sexual health checklist for anyone thinking about having sex – or more sex – after changes to restrictions happen during May and June. It contains important sexual health information, including restarting contraception and whether it’s time to test for HIV and other STIs.
There is also information about managing the Covid-19 risk with your potential partners, including for those who have already received one or both doses of the Covid vaccine.
The charity is taking action as – prior to the pandemic – an STI was diagnosed every 67 seconds in England, with Public Health England (PHE) reporting 468,342 new STI diagnoses in 2019. In fact, rates of gonorrhoea were at their highest level since records began more than 100 years ago – with a 26% rise between 2018 and 19.
These was also a 10% rise in syphilis diagnoses and a 5% increase in chlamydia, with 229,411 new chlamydia cases making it the mostly commonly diagnosed STI in the country in 2019. Most STIs don’t have symptoms, which is why it’s worth utilising home testing kits to check for infections prior to having sex again.
It is not yet known what impact the lockdown will have had on infection rates, but THT hopes by acting now it will prevent a summer of STIs.
The charity’s advice includes common sense advice about managing the Covid-19 risk with any potential partner. For example, not having sex if either of you has any symptoms or has been in contact with anyone who has symptoms.
If a person has been fully vaccinated, they have a lower chance of getting very ill with Covid-19 or passing it on to other people. They should still take every precaution to prevent getting or passing on Covid-19, and follow local public health guidelines for their area.
THT, in partnership with PHE, is also launching a new campaign encouraging people to think about their sexual health prior to restrictions changing. This is focused on the groups most impacted by poor sexual health in England, including young people, gay and bisexual men, Black and other minority ethnic groups, and people living with HIV.
This builds on the work carried out with THT funded by PHE, from the It Starts With Me campaign, to raising awareness of PrEP in Black African communities to prevent new HIV diagnoses and making access to HIV testing easy and convenient.
Taku Mukiwa, Head of Health Programmes at THT, said: “We know many people are looking forward to the loosening of restrictions after so long in lockdown and we’re not looking to spoil anyone’s fun. But it’s important we avoid a summer of STIs and we want anyone who’s starting to have sex – or more sex – after this month’s changes in the rules to think about their sexual health beforehand. That includes whether to test for STIs beforehand, how you’re going to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancy, and whether to restart the HIV prevention drug PrEP or the contraceptive pill.
“It’s also important to think about managing the risks of COVID-19 as coronavirus hasn’t gone away. This includes using common sense and having honest conversations with partners, as well as not having sex if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.”