Cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) increased in an Italian city that was closed due to COVID-19. This was revealed by research that raised questions about how strictly some residents followed the rules.
The authors of the article compared how many people were diagnosed with the most common STDs in two clinics in the Italian city of Milan between March 15 and April 14, 2020, compared to the same period last year. Milan is the capital of Lombardy, one of the first areas outside China to be severely affected by the corona virus during the COVID 19 pandemic.
Between March 15 and April 14, 2020, the number of hospital visits fell by 37 percent, from 233 in 2019 to 147 in 2020, but the number of so-called acute infections – including gonorrhea, secondary syphilis and genital mycoplasma – increased between March 15 and April 14, 2020. In the case of an acute infection, the symptoms appear quickly. Cases of non-acute infections such as genital warts and molluscum contagiosum decreased.
2020 vs. 2019
During this period, the Italian government had imposed a national lockdown, which meant that people were only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, and most stores, restaurants and bars were closed. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called this a “I stay at home” decree.
The team believes that the number of acute cases may have increased in 2020, as only patients with symptoms visited the clinics.
“It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic has not prevented risky behavior despite the lockdown and the advice on social/physical distancing,” the authors wrote.
The research results were published as a research letter in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections in August and presented as a poster at the Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, which took place from 29 to 30 October.
Co-author Dr. Marco Cusini, of La Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore di Milano Policlinico, Milan, Italy, said in a statement that he was surprised by the number of new acute infections that his team had detected during this period, as he believed that the closure would limit the opportunities for sexual encounters and therefore the spread of STDs.
Cusini said that gonorrhea and syphilis are generally more common among people in their 30s. Since older people are more likely to develop severe or fatal COVID-19, young people may have continued with sexual encounters and their risk of falling ill with COVID-19 was lower, according to the team believe.
“While it is unrealistic to prevent people from having sex even in this extraordinary pandemic, close contact during sexual intercourse inevitably brings with it an increased risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus],” Cusini said.
“The results show the importance of continuous screening for sexually transmitted diseases and the benefits of having this type of service open and available in these unprecedented times.
The research is the latest to shed light on sexual health in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic. Employees of a sexually transmitted disease clinic at Santa Chiara Hospital in Trento, northern Italy, expressed similar concerns in July in an article entitled “STDs and the COVID 19 pandemic: the lockdown will not stop sexual infections”.
In a letter to the editor of the journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, they wrote that “little attention was paid to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and STI clinics during the country’s lockdown. Between March 9 and May 4, they documented 15 cases of sexually transmitted diseases, up from 17 the previous year. Nine of the people diagnosed in 2020 reported having had sexual encounters during the lockdown.
The authors wrote that while “common sense” suggests that people will have less casual sex when venues are closed and people are isolated, the team said their study shows that “risky behavior does not appear to be decreasing during the pandemic.