STI screening facilities expanding telemedical services amid COVID-19

STI screening facilities expanding telemedical services amid COVID-19
After a virtual appointment with a doctor, STI testing kits can be mailed to patients who need additional screening. (Source: KOLD)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - While COVID-19 is currently the most prominent virus worldwide, clinics for sexually transmitted infections are urging people to get tested.

Dr. Lori Fantry, associate clinical director of Banner University Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Division, is concerned that people aren’t taking care of their sexual health during the pandemic.

“I know that we all want to be safe because of COVID, but you need to know what’s needed to prevent STIs,” Fantry said. “And if you’re sexually active - by definition having close contact - you have a higher risk to get COVID.”

Fantry is concerned that STI testing services have shut down and slowed down, and many of the testing events the county engages in are temporarily at pause.

“It’s very concerning that a lot of services have shut down. The most concerning thing is STI testing is quite limited right now as far as the county,” she said.

In April, the Department of Health and Human Services sent out a letter with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on providing effective care when facility-based services are limited.

Health-care settings that have remained open have expanded telemedical services.

Patients can make an appointment and virtually talk to a doctor. If a patient needs additional screening, STI testing kits are sent directly to patients’ homes.

“We are surprisingly able to handle a lot of the problems,” Fantry said. “My concern is when a patient gets it and has to bring it back to the lab, it may still not be brought back in.”

Another concern is the decline of HIV testing in the county.

“The biggest STI I can think of is HIV, and we have not had many people come in for acute HIV recently,” Fantry said. “Again, I think it’s because there is not a lot of testing getting done.”

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of HIV infection include fevers, chills, rashes, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers.

Some of these could easily be mistaken with symptoms of COVID-19.

If you think you may have come in contact with HIV, contact your health-care provider as soon as possible. You can receive immediate treatment through a rapid-start program, ideally within a day of diagnosis.

“COVID is definitely causing a lot of collateral damage,” Fantry said. “But it’s not just COVID that’s the problem; it’s people not getting appropriate medical care for other things because of COVID.”

If you’ve had any recent contact with partners or experiencing STI symptoms, contact your provider or the Pima County Health Department for a telemedical interview.

People with existing STI symptoms, those reporting STI contact and individuals at risk for complications will receive priority care.

Routine screening visits should be deferred until the emergency response is over.

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