Expedited Partner Therapy Could Reduce STD Prevalence, But Here's Why This Treatment Is So Controversial

Sexually transmitted diseases are obviously and unfortunately contagious. You catch them from other people, and transmit them to other people, in a very direct fashion. Expedited partner therapy, or EPT, is when a health care provider treats sexual partners at the same time, by giving the partner who visits the office enough medication to take back to the partner who didn't visit the provider. It's like killing two STD birds with one stone! But while expedited partner therapy could reduce STD prevalence and is a great idea, some doctors just aren't in the habit of offering it, and EPT unfortunately faces legal barriers to being offered more widely.

A research team led by the University of Washington in Seattle studied 23 local health jurisdictions over a period of two years, as the jurisdictions were asked to initiate programs encouraging clinicians to prescribe partner treatments for patients presenting with gonorrhea or chlamydia. They provided free EPT packs to doctors and made them available through commercial pharmacies. This means that partners were getting treated more quickly, and couples stopped passing the infections back and forth, reinfecting themselves and others.

As a result of the EPT program, the number of patients receiving partner treatments almost doubled, and this change seems responsible for reducing overall gonorrhea and chlamydia rates in the area by almost 10 percent. What's more, the drugs for treating chlamydia and gonorrhea are safe, effective, and cheap, so why aren't clinicians in the United States using expedited therapy more often? Well, it turns out the law has something to do with it — as this map from the Centers for Disease control shows, in a number of states EPT is illegal, because doctors are required to physically see the patients for whom they prescribe drugs. This law is certainly well-intended, but it's not helping our overall dire STD situation in the U.S.

Only you know what you've been up to — some people who claim they haven't even ever had sex apparently test positive for STDs! — but it may be time for a checkup, including STD screening. And although plenty of public health campaigns have tried to make communicating about sexual health seem fun and romantic, at the end of the day in many cases it's just bound to be super awkward. No one likes dealing with the doctor, but expedited partner therapy can make this process somewhat less painful than it might otherwise be, and spare someone else down the line from getting an STD too.

Image: Marcin Sadlowski/Fotolia; Giphy