UW News

February 24, 2005

Study finds value in giving medications for partners

A new study led by Public Health – Seattle & King County and published in the Feb. 17 New England Journal of Medicine reports that a patient’s risk of sexually-transmitted disease (STD) reinfection decreases and the number of sex partners treated increases with a locally tested, innovative model of care.

The expedited care model gives STD patients diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydial infection medications to give to their sex partners, allowing a partner to get treated without first seeing a medical provider.

“This study suggests that many, and perhaps most, heterosexual patients should be offered medications to give to their sex partners,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, acting director of the STD Control Program at Public Health – Seattle & King County and lead author of the study. He is also a UW assistant professor of medicine at the Center for AIDS and STD. “This expedited care model may help redesign the current national partner notification system to treat more partners. Currently, approximately half of gonorrhea or chlamydia patients’ sex partners do not get treated.”

“Public and private organizations have joined locally to carry out this groundbreaking public health study,” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, director and health officer of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Expedited care of partners of STD clients has immediate implications for the way we control and prevent STDs locally and has the potential to be expanded nationally.”

The study, conducted in partnership with researchers at University of Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), randomly assigned women and heterosexual men diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydial infections to either receive medications to give to their partners or the usual standard of advising clients to notify partners to make sure they seek medical care. Patients who received medications to give to their partners were more likely than those assigned to standard referral of partners to report that all of their partners were treated. Additionally, they were less likely to report having sex with an untreated partner.

Although many doctors give patients with STDs medications to treat their sex partners, the practice traditionally has not been endorsed by the CDC, public health departments, or medical professional organizations. The persistence of high rates of gonorrhea and chlamydial infection, coupled with a dissatisfaction with the current system, which typically leaves patients to ensure their partners treatment without assistance, has prompted a public health debate on how best to treat partners.