Health experts are urging Australians who have stopped using the HIV prevention drug PrEP to resume it.
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a pill taken usually daily that reliably prevents HIV.
It has been linked with significant drops in new HIV cases in Australia.
Many people reduced their frequency of casual sex in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a study published in July showing an 84% drop in casual sex among gay and bisexual men.
Over 40% of PrEP users recently said they had discontinued its use during the pandemic, according to a Kirby Institute study led by Dr Mohamed A. Hammoud and Associate Professor Garrett Prestage.
“Since 2014, we’ve seen a steady increase in PrEP use among gay and bisexual men in Australia,” said Dr Hammoud.
“The impact of COVID-19 restrictions has dramatically impacted this upward trajectory.
“Many men are likely making informed decisions about when to use or not use PrEP.
“While this research also shows us that casual sex has decreased since COVID-19, condomless sex with casual partners is still the primary risk for HIV among gay men if it isn’t protected by PrEP or HIV treatments.”
Community health organisations are urging men to consider resuming PrEP use.
“Australia’s success in containing COVID-19 must not be at the expense of containing epidemics such as HIV,” said Darryl O’Donnell, CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, according to Star Observer.
“With restrictions easing, it’s vital that men resume PrEP in a way that works for them – whether that’s returning to a daily regimen or on demand,” said Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of ACON.
“If they have questions about these regimens, they should talk to their PrEP prescriber.
“We urge men in our communities to continue using HIV prevention strategies and to get tested regularly.”
Simon Ruth, CEO Thorne Harbour Health, agreed that the priority is to “ensure men who took breaks from PrEP fully understand how to recommence prior to potential HIV exposure”.