Nationwide lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are helping contain COVID-19 pandemic, however, researchers fear that this may potentially lead to a surge in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections worldwide.

An epidemiologist at Emory University, Travis Sanchez, believes that lockdown may undermine the efforts of public health experts in controlling HIV infections. He based his belief on the findings of an online survey conducted among 1,000 men who prefer to have sexual intercourse with men.

Sanchez discovered that post-COVID-19, 50% of the men reported a decrease in their sexual partners. They also reported that it has become difficult to find a new partner in the hook-up apps. Ideally, that should reduce the risk of HIV transmission from the infected to a healthy person.

However, there is a disturbing truth attached to the findings.

The epidemiologist found that even though the number of men having intercourse with random men has reduced by 50%, the number of facilities that test people for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have also reduced tremendously.

Thousands of clinics an facilities that offer STD testing are no longer availing their services to people owing to the lockdown, which means that people who wish to get themselves checked can no longer do that. So even if the person thinks and actually had an STD, he or she will never know.

Therefore, there are chances that people who are not able to get testing done not will already be infected and therefore, can potentially infect their sexual partners during the lockdown. By the time they have access to proper testing facilities, they would have sexually transmitted the disease to their partners and this may lead to a surge in HIV infections.

In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it was previously believed that HIV cases would drop, considering a dip in the number of infections being reported. However, considering the stay-at-home orders and the global nationwide lockdown, it cannot be said whether HIV infections are controlled or not.

Therefore, without testing such individuals who have no access to clinics now, it is not possible to say whether HIV infections are increasing or decreasing.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington is one such clinic that has stopped seeing suspected patients with STD. They are only seeing symptomatic patients after a prior appointment and therefore, those who may be asymptomatic carriers, can potentially still infect their sexual partners.

hiv protein An artist illustration of a schematic depiction of the protein structure of the pre-fusion HIV spike as viewed from above shows the three gp41 molecules in blue and the three gp120 molecules in red, in this National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) image released on October 8, 2014. New research that sheds light on the methods and machinery used by HIV to infect cells provides insight into the tricky virus that potentially could guide the development of a vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS, according to U.S. government and other scientists. REUTERS/NIAID/Handout