A new study suggests that regular sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings, in combination with PrEP use, reduces the transmission of both HIV and other STIs among gay and bisexual men. The study found that, even with significant reductions in condom use, if gay and bisexual men using pre-exposure prophylaxis (commonly referred to as PrEP) get screened for STIs every six months, there would be a dramatic decrease in the transmission of STIs like Chlamydia and gonorrhea over the next decade. The study also found that increasing screenings to four times a year would not dramatically affect the prevention of STIs and that every six months was sufficient.
The findings were just released from a new study presented at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. A joint effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, the study suggests that there is a significant reduction in the transmission of not only HIV, but other STIs for those who are using PrEP and receiving regular STI screenings and treatment.
This flies in the face of prevailing public opinion and some studies that has pointed to increases in STI transmission rates in men using PrEP and reduction in condom use.
Although the CDC currently recommends that PrEP users be screened semi-annually for STIs, Dr. Samuel Jenness, who headed the study at Emory University, says making sure providers are aware of these guidelines is key. “Right now, there's a tremendous amount of [diversity] in terms of how the STI testing is being performed by these clinicians” says Jenness. “As PrEP has been implemented in smaller practice groups or by individual clinicians outside of large metropolitan areas, we have some suggestions that the guidelines aren't being adhered to with respect to STI testing as much.”
To help bridge this gap, the CDC has been leading efforts to educate healthcare providers on the recommended guidelines and the importance of providing PrEP users with regular STI testing, including a support hotline to answer providers’ questions about PrEP (1-855-HIV-PREP). Jenness says that more research needs to be done regarding these smaller practices and providers to determine whether or not they are adhering to the current STI screening recommendations, and at what rates. The bottom line: If you are a gay or bisexual man using PrEP, get screened for STIs every six months to keep yourself on a healthy track and optimize the effectiveness of the treatment.