At least that is what the experts at 56 Dean Street, the largest sexual health centre in the UK, claim. With the decline in casual sex, the corona crisis is an unprecedented opportunity to detect new infections of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) in time. They advise everyone to order STI and HIV self-tests before the lockdown in their home country ends.

Dr. Alan McOwan of the British health centre spoke to the news platform GayStarNews about how the coronavirus pandemic could be a unique opportunity to prevent new HIV transmissions. 56 Dean Street diagnoses around a quarter of sexually transmitted infections in gay men from Great Britain. As a result, they can detect trends in sexual health – months before official results are released. According to the expert, the first effects of the Corona crisis are shown in the following figures:

The number of people treated at the centre for gonorrhoea has dropped by 86% from 350 to about 50 a week. The number of PEP prescriptions after risky sex has decreased from 50 to about five to ten per week. In addition, many people are currently taking a “PrEP holiday” – instead of 100 people a day, there are now only about three who come to 56 Dean Street for PrEP checks.

It could be argued that the numbers have fallen because fewer people go to the health centre for prevention or treatment. But the expert considers it unlikely that the number of people suffering from gonorrhea, for example, is due to this circumstance. He describes the symptoms of the disease as being so severe that people would go to the doctor even if they were restricted from going to the toilet.

According to McOwan, people would not hesitate to take PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) if they were exposed to a risk. He believes that the drastic drop in numbers is due to the fact that far fewer people currently engage in casual sex. The reasoning would also explain the low demand for PrEP: Many would refrain from taking pre-exposure prophylaxis because there is currently no risk of infection for them.

The 56 Dean Street team is convinced that very few gay men have been infected with HIV in the last six weeks. Since it takes up to four weeks after infection before the virus can be detected in a test, tests that are carried out now would detect practically all new infections.

McOwan speaks of the corona crisis as a unique opportunity to eliminate HIV. Many doctors would now recommend that everyone order an HIV and STI home test before the end of the lockdown and before returning to normality. It is the perfect time, the health expert said.

This would be particularly elementary due to one factor: people who have only recently infected themselves show very high concentrations of the virus in their bodies. Half of all HIV-infected people in Great Britain have therefore been infected by someone who has only recently infected himself. The number of these people is now falling – self-testing could further reduce the transmission routes.

The doctor asks everybody to help:

“Two or three years ago we were diagnosing 60 to 70 people HIV positive a month. I started out my career when literally everybody died. Now it’s in grasp that we can stop everyone from catching it. So we don’t just want you to test, we want you to help us get every gay man to test. That way we can have a dramatic, long-term effect. We’ll never get another chance like this again.’

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  • daniel-tafjord-unsplash.corona-paar: By: Daniel Tafjord / Unsplash / CCo

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