We aimed to examine the impact of lockdown on sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses and access to a public sexual health service during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in Melbourne, Australia.
The operating hours of Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC) remained the same during the lockdown. We examined the number of consultations and STIs at MSHC between January and June 2020 and stratified the data into prelockdown (February 3 to March 22), lockdown (March 23 to May 10), and postlockdown (May 11 to June 28), with 7 weeks in each period. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using Poisson regression models.
The total number of consultations dropped from 7818 in prelockdown to 4652 during lockdown (IRR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.57-0.62) but increased to 5347 in the postlockdown period (IRR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.11-1.20). There was a 68% reduction in asymptomatic screening during lockdown (IRR, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.30-0.35), but it gradually increased during the postlockdown period (IRR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.46-1.74). Conditions with milder symptoms showed a marked reduction, including nongonococcal urethritis (IRR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.51-0.72) and candidiasis (IRR, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.49-0.76), during lockdown compared with prelockdown. STIs with more marked symptoms did not change significantly, including pelvic inflammatory disease (IRR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.61-1.47) and infectious syphilis (IRR, 1.14; 95% CI, 0.73-1.77). There was no significant change in STI diagnoses during postlockdown compared with lockdown.
The public appeared to be prioritizing their attendance for sexual health services based on the urgency of their clinical conditions. This suggests that the effectiveness of clinical services in detecting, treating, and preventing onward transmission of important symptomatic conditions is being mainly preserved despite large falls in absolute numbers of attendees.