Levels of sexual health screening among gay men taking PrEP fall well below recommended levels, investigators from the United States report in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases. Rates of testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the rectum and throat – which can be asymptomatic – were especially low, so too testing coverage in south-eastern US states which have an especially high burden of HIV and STI infections among gay and other men who have sex with men.
“Consistency of STI screening at PrEP care visits was lower than recommended, especially for rectal and pharyngeal infections that are mostly asymptomatic,” write the authors. “Our findings also highlight the regional variation in gaps between recommendations and PrEP clinical practice overall, and raise concerns about whether comprehensive PrEP care as currently practiced would be effective for STI control.”
Tenofovir-based PrEP is highly effective at preventing infection with HIV but the treatment provides no protection against STIs. Pre-existing research shows elevated STI rates among PrEP-using gay men, probably the result of increased surveillance and sexual risk behaviour. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) therefore recommends that gay men taking PrEP should have comprehensive check-ups for bacterial STIs every three to six months. These sexual health screens should include tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, with swabs or samples taken from the urethra, throat and rectum.