HPCP gets a fair amount of comments on our social media platforms about why are there more ads for HIV testing in Pennsylvania. We’ve also been hearing a lot about unscientific, unfounded connections between COVID vaccines and HIV. The *real* connection to the need for more testing and COVID is that people stopped getting tested for HIV during the COVID crisis. Now HPCP is helping to make up for lost ground. As reported by Contagion Live, the pandemic disrupted testing among vulnerable populations (see below). As a result, HPCP, in partnership with Penn State University, is offering free HIV self-test kits to anyone who resides in Pennsylvania, you can find out more and get a FREE HIV self-test kit in the mail at www.getmyHIVtest.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted HIV testing and new diagnoses among vulnerable populations, according to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC investigators analyzed data from national data collection systems in order to compare the numbers of HIV tests performed and HIV infections diagnosed in the US. in the years prior to (2019) and during (2020) the COVID-19 pandemic. The study authors noted that due to the pandemic, health care systems were disrupted including HIV testing and the redirection of some public health departments from sexual health services towards COVID-19 services.
Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States decreased during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but most resurged by the end of that year. Ultimately, reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined, according to new data published today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data provide the clearest picture yet of COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. STD epidemic.
The newly released 2020 STD Surveillance Report found that at the end of 2020:
Reported cases of gonorrhea and primary & secondary (P&S) syphilis were up 10% and 7%, respectively, compared to 2019.
Syphilis among newborns (i.e., congenital syphilis) also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15% from 2019, and 235% from 2016. Early data indicate primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to increase in 2021 as well.
Reported cases of chlamydia declined 13% from 2019.
Chlamydia historically accounts for the largest proportion of reported STDs in the United States. The decline in reported chlamydia cases is likely due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, rather than a reduction in new infections. This also contributed to an overall decrease in the number of reported STDs in 2020 (from 2.5 million reported cases in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised get an additional dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after the initial two doses. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.
Recipients of organ or stem cell transplants
People with advanced or untreated HIV infection
Active recipients of treatment for cancer
People who are taking some medications that weaken the immune system
HIV.gov spoke with Harold J. Phillips, Director of The White House Office of National AIDS Policy, about what people with HIV need know. “There are three key messages we need to share,” he said:
Everyone over 12 years of age, regardless of HIV status, get vaccinated
Those with advanced HIV disease and/or not on medications, get a third dose of the vaccine
Those in HIV care and treatment who are virally suppressed, talk with your health care provider about the need for an additional dose.
He concluded: “By working together and spreading the word, we can help keep everyone in our HIV community safe and healthy.”
Feeling sick? Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms that could be consistent with COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and can recover at home. If you think you have COVID-19 and have symptoms, get tested. It’s important to continue taking your HIV medicine as prescribed. This will help keep your immune system healthy. If you don’t have a health care provider, contact your nearest community health center or health department. If you experience severe symptoms, get emergency medical care immediately. Learn more about COVID-19 and what to do if you get sick.
This reflection piece details the many challenges and opportunities COVID-19 has brought to the HIV/STD prevention field, particularly in the southern United States, and showcases the innovative approaches sexual health providers implemented to further prevent service disruption.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, this document looks at what the sexual health workforce has been through, and continue to go through, navigating ending an HIV epidemic while in a global pandemic.
A message from Rob Ghormoz, Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Governor…
The Pennsylvania Department of Health today will announce two additional categories of eligible individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as part of Phase 1A. Beginning today, all individuals 65 and older, and individuals ages 16-64 with certain medical conditions, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus, are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. The Departments’ Updated Interim Vaccine Plan can be found here.
Those conditions are outlined by the CDC here and include: Cancer; Chronic kidney disease; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); Down Syndrome; Heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines; Obesity; Severe Obesity; Pregnancy; Sickle cell disease; Smoking; and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
If you are part of a group that is eligible for vaccination, you can use the Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map to find a place to schedule your vaccine. Contact the vaccine provider of your choice directly to schedule an appointment. This map will be updated as more locations receive vaccine. Although a provider may have received vaccine, there is no guarantee that they have open appointments as supply is still very limited. Check back frequently as the map will be updated multiple times per week.
While the eyes of the nation are on the coronavirus pandemic, another threat to public health has been steadily growing in the United States. We’ve been battling rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI) for the last several years. In fact, 2020 marks the fifth consecutive year of increasing rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in the U.S., due in part to significant funding cuts to more than 50% of the nation’s public health STI programs. And now the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an even greater burden on our strained public health system and supply chains, shifting focus from one major public health issue to another.
We can’t risk losing one critical resource that will be essential to ending the STI epidemic — the availability of free and confidential STI testing for adolescents. Prior to the pandemic, national public health efforts were scaling up to improve STI and HIV testing, and quickly link youth to prevention services. Rapid identification and treatment of STIs not only has public health benefits in terms of lowering transmission, but when left untreated, STIs increase the risk of infertility, severe pelvic infection, chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy and HIV transmission.
While accounting for 25% of the population, adolescents and young adults comprise over 50% of STIs in the U.S. each year. Black, Latinx, and LGBT youth face the greatest burden of infections and risk of complications. Fortunately, significant advances have been made over the last several decades to improve rates of STI and HIV testing among adolescents and young adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends HIV screening by the age of 16-18 years for all youth regardless of their sexual activity.
Getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. When you get vaccinated, you reduce your risk of getting sick with flu and possibly being hospitalized or dying from flu. This season, getting a flu vaccine has the added benefit of reducing the overall burden on the health care system and saving medical resources for care of COVID-19 patients.
People with HIV—especially those who have a very low CD4 cell count or who are not taking antiretroviral therapy—are at high risk for serious flu-related complications. For this reason, it is especially important that people with HIV get a flu shot annually. (The nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended for people with HIV.)
In addition to getting a flu shot every year, people with HIV should take the same everyday preventive actions CDC recommends of everyone, including avoiding people who are sick, covering coughs, and washing hands often.
It may seem obvious that if a person is infected with COVID-19, they risk infecting others during sex. But people still have a lot of questions. Here’s an excerpt on the topic form the Mayo Clinic Website:
The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouth or nose of a person nearby. Coming into contact with a person’s spit through kissing or other sexual activities could expose you to the virus. People who have COVID-19 could also spread respiratory droplets onto their skin and personal belongings. A sexual partner could get the virus by touching these surfaces and then touching his or her mouth, nose or eyes. In addition, the COVID-19 virus can spread through contact with feces. It’s possible that you could get the COVID-19 virus from sexual activities that expose you to fecal matter.
There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, but the virus has been detected in the semen of people who have or are recovering from the virus. Further research is needed to determine if the COVID-19 virus could be transmitted sexually.
Since some people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, it’s important to keep distance between yourself and others if the COVID-19 virus is spreading in your community. This includes avoiding sexual contact with anybody who doesn’t live with you. If you or your partner isn’t feeling well or think you might have COVID-19, don’t kiss or have sex with each other until you’re both feeling better. Also, if you or your partner is at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19 due to an existing chronic condition, you might want to avoid sex.
In case that wasn’t clear, The National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), in partnership with National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), released a frequently asked questionsresource regarding sex and COVID-19. In short, if you’re in the same room with someone who has the virus, you can get infected–sex or no sex.
If you have questions about getting tested, talk to your doctor or health care provider. You can also find testing in your area via a Google search. In Pennsylvania, call the Health Department at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258).
As clinics and health departments across the country have shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s roughly 2,200 disease detectives, the so-called “contact tracers” of infectious disease outbreaks, have been re-deployed to track where cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — are spreading, to try to stop those outbreaks in their tracks. It’s a necessary shift, but one that may have serious, long-term impacts for the country’s sexual health, and for President Trump’s year-and-a-half-old plan to “eliminate” HIV from the US by 2030.
[…] According to a recent NCSD survey of HIV and STD disease tracers around the country, 83% are forgoing their usual field visits as a result of this pandemic. Two-thirds of the country’s clinics (66%) have also reported decreases in health screenings and testing due to COVID-19.