The COVID-19 lockdown offers a once-in-a-generation chance to ‘break the chain’ of HIV transmission, says London’s 56 Dean Street HIV clinic. The clinic has launched a Test Now Stop HIV website encouraging gay and bisexual men to use home testing kits to determine their HIV status during the lockdown.
Very recently acquired HIV infections (within the previous 4 weeks) often fail to show up on testing, yet the affected person can unwittingly be highly infectious during this period. These factors mean transmission from recently acquired infection is very difficult to eliminate under normal circumstances. Testing during lockdown, when fewer sexual encounters are occurring, offers an opportunity to test for infections acquired before lockdown was imposed. This will allow new infections to be discovered before the individual resumes sexual activity with new partners.
Rates of STI diagnoses at the clinic dropped dramatically in the first two weeks of lockdown, says 56 Dean Street consultant Dr Diarmuid Nugent, in a guest blog for HIV Prevention England. So did requests for post-exposure HIV prophylaxis (PEP). This is thought to indicate that sexual activity in among gay and bisexual men in London has greatly reduced.
The Test Now website includes details of how to access home testing in different areas of England.