COVID-19 leading to increase in sexually transmissible infections

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre director Professor David Lewis

If you’ve been delaying getting your regular sexual health check-up, now is the time to make an appointment.

That’s the message from Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre’s (WSSHC) director Professor David Lewis, who fears that sexually transmissible infections (STIs) spread undetected last year during lockdowns brought on by COVID-19.

Prof Lewis supervised research by Associate Professor Iryna Zablotska and Dr Olaitan T Ogunbodede, a University of Sydney PhD student completing the Postgraduate Program in Sexual and Reproductive Health through WSSHC.

Dr Ogunbodede’s research found that in the short term, COVID-19 led to a change in sexual behaviour that reduced the incidence of STIs, but the long-term impact on health-seeking behaviour threatens to drive STI and HIV transmission upwards.

Dr Olaitan T Ogunbodede and Professor David Lewis

“The pandemic had a psychological impact on libido and sexual behaviour. People were initially sticking to their partners and looking online, but that’s not the whole picture,” Dr Ogunbodede said.

“It’s likely that transmission continued with less intervention because services were disrupted and people did not seek help. The impact of the pandemic is not just COVID-19 deaths; it’s far-reaching and impacting on a range of other diseases that we have to deal with every day, which is why it’s so important that people come back to their regular testing regimes.

“We’d like to see people caring for themselves and others by getting tested. Not all STIs have symptoms, but just because you’ve fallen behind doesn’t mean you can’t catch up.”

Prof Lewis said January was the busiest month he had seen at WSSHC and he encouraged more people to come forward for testing.

“Our service is free, confidential and non-judgemental. It’s easy to make an appointment,” Prof Lewis said.

“Our amazing staff care for people from all different backgrounds. We understand this can be an awkward or daunting process, and we make it as comfortable as possible.

“There are many treatments available today and new breakthroughs all the time. Don’t be worried about what you might find because support is available.”

WSSHC is based at Jeffery House in Parramatta, with a secondary site operating on Wednesdays in Mount Druitt. The service provides free and confidential testing, support, treatment and management of STIs and HIV.

Interpreter services are available for those who require them. No Medicare card required.

The service offers a specialised sexual health service to:

  • People living with HIV/AIDS
  • Gay and other men who have sex with men
  • Trans and gender diverse people
  • Sex workers
  • People who inject drugs
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • People with STI-related symptoms
  • People who had sexual contact with someone with HIV or STI

To make an appointment, please call the Parramatta centre on 9843 3124 during opening hours.