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Treating Sex Partners Gets Easier

Treating Sex Partners Gets Easier

Under the expedited-partner-therapy law taking effect January 1, Illinois doctors and other health care providers are allowed to treat some STD patients' partners without a preliminary examination. The new law permits antibiotics to be prescribed or given to a patient diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia to pass on to his or her sex partner. Illinois joins about 20 other states that allow EPT.

"Men rarely have symptoms, so they think, I don't have anything, so I don't need to go [seek treatment]," says Stephani Cox, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of Illinois. As a result, she adds, female patients treated at the Springfield clinic frequently return after being reinfected by their partners. "[EPT] will really cut down the reinfection rate, and so I think it's a great thing."

EPT is a "cost-saving and cost-effective partner-management strategy" for chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2008, Illinois had more than 59,000 new chlamydia cases -- a record high -- and 20,000 new gonorrhea cases.

Many more infections are undiagnosed because 5% to 75% are asymptomatic during the early stages, according to John Peller, government relations director for AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Rates of the two sexually transmitted diseases are highest among people age 25 and under and young people of color, he says. Funding cuts have hindered public-health agencies' partner-notification efforts, he notes. In addition to EPT, "we need expanded access to health insurance" and more public-health clinics to make major dents in STDs, Peller says.

The new law was supported by a coalition of physicians, nurses, and public-health groups. Providers are given a high level of immunity from medical malpractice lawsuits, a provision insisted upon by the Illinois State Medical Society.

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