Campaign launched urging people to have safe sex as lockdown restrictions ease

A new campaign has been launched by Berkshire’s Public Health team urging people to have safe sex following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The ‘stay safe, sexually’ campaign encourages those at risk to get tested for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and STIs (sexually transmitted infection) at their local sexual health clinic.

Dr Jonas Thompson-McCormick, consultant in Public Health Services for Berkshire said: “As we are coming out of lockdown we just want to make people aware of free testing. It’s about keeping ourselves safe and our partners.”

He also wanted to make sure residents are aware of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is a medicine people at risk of HIV can take to protect themselves from getting it, which became available for free in October.

He said people considered ‘at risk’ would include anyone who has unprotected sex regularly without a condom with more than one partner and not just gay men.

There are around 250 people in Berkshire taking PrEP but officials think this number should roughly be around 900 next year based on national modelling.

The latest data available showed 47 new cases of HIV in Berkshire in 2019 with nine in Slough and eight in the Royal Borough.

Dr Thompson-McCormick added: “New diagnosis have decreased and there is a variety of reasons for that, however around half of those were late diagnosis of HIV and that is a concern because that mean sit had already had an impact on their immune system.

“Activity has decreased and the UK Government has committed to try and get HIV transmission down to 0 by 2030 and we want to do that in Berkshire as well, to make sure we get that transmission down we need to identify the proper treatments available.”

People can also take PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) which is an after-sex emergency treatment to take if you’ve potentially been exposed to HIV after having unprotected sex.

Dr Thompson- McCormick added: “During lockdown attendances at sexual health clinics did drop but we found nationally people have been engaging in different ways and via digital. We’ve had the COVID-19 page on our website to say we are still open and the attendances are good.

“With restrictions easing, we need to avoid – as far as possible – any increase in the number of people presenting with HIV and other STIs. We therefore encourage people to take steps to protect themselves by wearing a condom during sex – or consider self-testing for HIV and other STIs if they’ve been put at risk.”

Sarah Macadam, CEO of Thames Valley Positive Support added: “We are delighted to support Safe Sex Berkshire in its quest to help educate local people about the benefits of HIV testing and the specific treatments – PrEP and PEP – that help protect against HIV infection. The website offers a wealth of HIV and treatment information, plus lots of advice on other sexual health issues.”

Visit safesexberkshire.nhs.uk for information. All access to Berkshire NHS Sexual Health Clinics are free and confidential.

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