Lockdown legacy: Queenslanders stay home and sex diseases surge

Social distancing worked against COVID-19 and even the flu, but at home there were other dangers.

Mar 22, 2021, updated Mar 22, 2021
A billboard for a Queensland sexual health campaign. (Supplied)

A billboard for a Queensland sexual health campaign. (Supplied)

A study published in Communicable Diseases Intelligence has provided a revealing insight into the health trends in regional Australia during the pandemic.

Researchers collected data on notifiable diseases for the six-month period between April 1 and September 30 in central Queensland. They found that lockdowns, social distancing, travel restrictions and even better hygiene practices contributed to a reduction in most vaccine-preventable diseases, including influenza, pertussis and rotavirus.

However, during the same period, there was an increase in sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) such as newly-acquired hepatitis C, gonorrhoea and infectious syphilis.

“There have been suggestions of a possible future reduction in incidences of STIs as a result of COVID-10 isolation measures, however the current report shows contrary results,” the researchers wrote in the journal.

“This is likely due to ongoing syphilis and gonorrhoea outbreaks in the region since early 2019.

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“The increase in the number of gonorrhoea and syphilis notifications in CQ is a major concern, potentially indicating that the implemented measures might not have inhibited risky behaviours.”

Similar trends are evident in the national data for syphilis and gonorrhoea for 2020.

The central Queensland study also recorded an increase in vector-borne infections such as Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and Q fever in 2020, although international travel restrictions meant there was no dengue or malaria.

The researchers suggested follow-up work to determine whether there had been an increase in mosquitos, or simply more people being at home or around their homes and potentially more exposed to mosquitos or the animals responsible for spreading Q Fever.

Nationally, there was also a similar trend with Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus in 2020.

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