In an indirect indicator that Montreal’s young adult population is driving the COVID-19 resurgence, authorities are observing a dramatic increase in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) since Quebec has reopened during the pandemic.
Although COVID-19 is spread by close contact between people, including during sex, it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease (although the coronavirus has been detected in the semen of men who have or are recovering from the illness). Still, the rise in STIs suggests that the 20-29 age group has been socializing more than ever during the public health crisis.
“If you want an indicator of what’s going on, look at the increase in sexually transmitted diseases,” said Dr. Karl Weiss , president of the Association des médecins microbiologistes-infectiologues du Québec.
“The number of sexually transmitted diseases that we’re seeing right now is skyrocketing. It’s quite striking. It’s a marker that tells you definitely that the confinement rules, especially among the younger population, are not being followed.”
Younger adults have mostly contracted COVID-19 in crowded settings like big house parties or bars. It’s more likely that asymptomatic individuals unwittingly transmit the coronavirus while socializing than during sex, although the latter can occur, too.
In the days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the number of cases of STIs plunged in Montreal. This was a direct consequence of the lockdown: fewer people were hooking up to have sex and fewer people were getting tested for STIs.
By April, as the number of COVID-19 infections started ramping up, the rate of STIs reached a record low. That month, Montreal reported 389 cases of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea compared with 1,189 for the same month last year.
Toward the end of May, the Montreal public health department observed a slight increase, recording 442 STIs compared with 1,229 for the same month in 2019.
In June, the health department counted 739 STIs compared with 1,060 for the same month last year.
What’s noteworthy is that last year, the number of STIs declined by 15.9 per cent from May to June. In contrast, the number of STIs surged by more than 67 per cent from May to June this year. (More than 77 per cent of STIs were among people aged 15 to 44.)
“People had much less contact with each other during the confinement,” explained Dr. Sarah-Amélie Mercure, a specialist in STIs at the Montreal public health department. “People were also less likely to get screened during this period as well.”
Dr. Julie Loslier, director of public health department for the Montérégie, told reporters she can’t rule out the possibility that the deconfinement may have caused a spike in STIs on the South Shore since May.
“It’s not impossible that deconfinement has led to contacts (between people) that are not always two metres apart,” Loslier said at a news conference on July 3. “So one can think of deconfinement as one of the sources for the increase in these transmissible infections.”
Asked whether she thought the increase in STIs is an indirect indicator of the COVID-19 resurgence, Mercure responded: “It’s an interesting hypothesis that for now has not been verified in concrete terms in Montreal. But it’s an indicator that we’re following.”
In a proactive move in early May, Montreal’s gay community posted safe-sex guidelines online for the pandemic. Those guidelines were drawn from the public health department of New York City. The Quebec Health Ministry unveiled its own recommendations two weeks later for the general population.
“COVID-19 is spread by close contact between people, including sexual contact like kissing, caresses, hugs, sexual relations, etc.,” the health ministry states on its website.
“If sexual partners live together and neither of them has to follow self-isolating instructions , there are no restrictions on their having sexual relations,” the ministry added. “With other people and sexual partners, they must follow the health recommendations for everyone .”
The ministry also noted that “the virus has been detected in some body fluids such as blood, semen and stool. However, the possibility of transmission through these body fluids remains uncertain at this time.”
The coronavirus is spread from an infected person through respiratory droplets, although there is growing evidence that virus particles can persist in aerosolized form, lingering in ambient air.
In Montreal, nearly one-third of the new COVID-19 cases since mid-June have been observed in the 20-to-29 age group, the most known to frequent bars and go to house parties . On Monday, authorities confirmed that 65 people caught the coronavirus in outbreaks in three bars.
In addition to the bars, peep shows have reopened as well as bath houses and saunas in the Gay Village. And just when there were worries that some bars might not enforce physical-distancing rules, similar concerns are now being raised about these other businesses. So far, though, the public health department has been silent on the matter.
Published at Wed, 22 Jul 2020 19:00:38 +0000