Covid-19 lockdown could help stem HIV spread

Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent

Lockdown measures to stem the tide of coronavirus spread could have helped slow HIV transmission rates, a charity has suggested.

The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) said this has created an “incredible opportunity” to “break the chain” of HIV infection spread.

The sexual health charity said that the impact of one pandemic could have a “huge impact” in the fight against another.

It is estimated that there are around 7,500 people in the UK who have HIV but are yet to be diagnosed.

These people may “unwittingly” pass along the virus, THT said.

As part of the strict social distancing measures, people have been instructed to stay two metres away from people in other households.

And as a result the number of people seeking new sexual partners has plummeted, according to a poll.

The charity said that this drastic change in behaviour provides the opportunity to “break the chain” of HIV transmission in the UK.

It can take around a month after possible exposure to HIV for it to show up on a test, so anyone who has not had sex since before lockdown will get an accurate result.

Anyone who gets a positive result back can access the treatment they need to stay healthy and can take steps to prevent HIV from being passed on.

A poll conducted by the sexual health charity and the sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street, found that 84% of people are abstaining from sex outside of their immediate household because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The organisations are urging people to take home HIV test kits – available free online.

Anyone can be affected by HIV but the groups most impacted by the virus – including gay and bisexual men, men and women from black African communities, and trans people – are being particularly encouraged.

Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “This is an incredible opportunity to break the chain on HIV infection and help move us further forward in achieving our goal of ending HIV transmissions in the UK within the next decade.

“National HIV Testing Week is every November, but we need to act now because this chance won’t wait and won’t come around again.

“It’s estimated that around 7,500 people in the UK are living with undiagnosed HIV, which is bad for their health and means they may unwittingly pass it on.

“If everyone is able to use their time in lockdown to get tested and know their HIV status, we can ensure something really good comes out of the devastation of the Covid crisis.”

Dr Alan McOwan, lead clinician at 56 Dean Street, added: “With fewer people hooking up for sex, it’s absolutely time to test as we have a great opportunity to pick up even recently acquired HIV infections. We didn’t think there would ever be an extended period of abstinence for so many people, but now it’s happened we’re determined to make the most of it.

“Testing yourself for HIV is quick and easy, and postal tests arrive in plain packaging. Visit our Test Now, Stop HIV website to find out all the information and get tested. Testing is so important because once you know your status, you can take steps to stay HIV negative with condoms, regular testing and PrEP. Or, if you get a positive diagnosis, you can access the treatment you need to stay well and stop HIV from being passed on.”

– For more information on how to get a free home test kit – posted in plain packaging – visit https://www.testnowstophiv.com or https://test.tht.org.uk/breakthechain