According to a small study, rates of syphilis and gonorrhea may actually have risen during lockdown.
Researchers in Italy compared the number of diagnoses in a single clinic in Milan in March and April of this year with the same period in 2019.
They found there were 44 cases of syphilis – in which patients have sores around their genitals – during lockdown, up from 32 last year.
In Italy's first severe national shutdown, 39 people were diagnosed with gonorrhea, compared with 32 in 2019. The diagnosis of urinary tract infections also increased year over year.
Scientists behind the study said the results suggested that younger people did not take the threat of Covid-19 seriously and continued to have unprotected sex despite social distancing rules.
The lead author Dr. Marco Cusini of the National Cancer Institute of the IRCCS Foundation in Milan said: “It was believed that the lockdown would reduce the possibility of sexual encounters and sexually transmitted diseases.
"However, I was surprised at the number of new acute infections diagnosed in such a short time."
However, the study only looked at one clinic in Milan, and the small increase in results may not apply to the entire city.
It also appears to be an outlier, with numbers in most countries showing that STIs have actually decreased this year due to the pandemic.
Since the UK was locked in March, the number of diagnoses in clinics has fallen to around 20 percent of normal. Similar trends were observed in Ireland, the US, and Australia.
The President of the UK Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has said the crisis could be a golden opportunity to break the UK sexually transmitted disease chain once and for all.
Syphilis and gonorrhea rates may actually have risen during lockdown, according to a small study (file)
The researchers analyzed infections between March 15 and April 14, following social isolation measures taken by many governments around the world to fight the pandemic during the same period last year.
The results, presented today at the 29th virtual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV), showed that despite a decrease in the total number of patients studied who attended the two STI centers in Milan studied, the number of patients examined decreased by more than a third, the acute bacterial infections still increased.
Covid-19 could cause male infertility by damaging testicular cells that produce sperm
Coronavirus can cause infertility in men – even if they only have a mild form of the disease, a doctor has claimed.
According to an Israeli study, the sperm count of infected men halved 30 days after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
Dr. Dan Aderka of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv claimed the sperm's mobility – or their ability to move on their own – had been impaired.
But scientists insist that the truth about whether Covid-19 is permanently damaging fertility is still murky, and that even the flu is causing temporary drops in sperm counts.
The Jerusalem Post, which reported the study, claimed it was published in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility and claimed the changes were seen in men with mild cases, but did not mention the number of people involved.
However, today's journal hit back, saying there was no record of Dr. Aderka submitted the elusive paper.
Since no journal has published the study publicly, scientists from around the world have yet to point out obvious flaws in their method.
However, scientists studying the effect of the coronavirus on fertility have made similar claims in the past.
However, doctors insist that reports of men with lower sperm counts are likely due to having had a fever – a tell-tale symptom of the coronavirus.
This, scientists say, makes it difficult for the body to produce sperm. They also argue that production can rise again after infection.
This increase included secondary syphilis and gonorrhea, but not acute cases such as genital warts and molluscum contagiosum – a skin infection that causes small white lumps to form.
The researchers concluded that despite lockdowns and advice on social and physical distancing, the Covid-19 pandemic did not stop risky sex and that acute STIs did indeed increase.
Dr. Cusini added, “Gonorrhea and syphilis tend to be more common in people in their thirties. Hence, the infection may have increased as the concentration of Covid-19 morbidity and mortality in the elderly made the younger, more active cohort averse to being protected and therefore less at risk.
“Although it is unrealistic to prevent people from having sex, close contact during sexual intercourse inevitably carries an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite this extraordinary pandemic.
"The results show the importance of ongoing sexually transmitted disease screening and the real benefit of having these types of services open and available in these unprecedented times."
The results of Dr. Cusini appear to be the outlier, as most statistics suggest that STI rates will drop during lockdown.
In Australia, for example, chlamydia is at an all-time low. The latest data from the Australian Department of Health shows that January through June numbers are the lowest in ten years.
There were 37,582 positive tests for the STI during this period – up from 54,485 in 2019, 53,965 in 2018 and 60,687 in 2017.
For gonorrhea and syphilis, the department's data show infections also decreased across the country from January to June.
That year there were 15,970 gonorrhea-positive tests – up from 17,488 in 2019 and 2,296 cases of syphilis were registered nationwide between January and June – up from 2,900 in 2019.
Similarly, chlamydia has dropped about a fifth in Ireland. In the third quarter of 2020, 1,764 cases of STI were reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Center, down from 489 cases from 2019.
The number of gonorrhea cases decreased by 129 to 527 and the herpes infections from 419 to 305. The syphilis infections also decreased from 198 to 144.
While gonorrhea is still very susceptible to the most common antibiotic treatment option, ceftriaxone, the emergence of antimicrobial resistant gonorrhea remains a problem for health professionals.
Recommended combinations with antibiotics like azithromycin should be avoided in light of antibiotic control, which requires new treatment guidelines, the scientists said.
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium neisseria gonorrhoeae and often shows no symptoms in women and is mostly symptomatic in men.
Common symptoms in men include urethral discharge and painful urination – or dysuria – and women may experience odorless vaginal discharge, dysuria, and pain during intercourse. Symptoms usually appear between one and 10 days after infection.
Gonorrhea is increasing across Europe and there were more than 89,000 confirmed cases in 2017 alone – 240 per day.
The UK reported 55 percent of all cases at 75 per 100,000, followed by Ireland with 47 per 100,000, Denmark with 33, Iceland with 29, Norway with 27 and Sweden with 25.
The first symptoms of syphilis usually appear two or three weeks after infection, although they can start later.
The main symptom is a small, painless sore or ulcer, typically on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, although it can sometimes appear in the mouth or on the lips, fingers, or buttocks.
Secondary syphilis is a progression of the disease and symptoms but can be cured with treatment.
There were 33,927 confirmed cases in Europe in 2018, with the highest rate in Malta at 17.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Luxembourg at 17.1, the UK at 12.6 and Spain at 10.3.
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