A new public health initiative in Washington State, called expedited partner therapy (EPT), shows promise in reducing curable sexually transmitted illnesses.
EPT is the clinical practice of treating the sex partners of patients by providing prescriptions or medications to the patient to take to his/her partner without the health care provider first examining the partner.
Although the new study showed general effectiveness in reducing the rates of STI in the study population, the intervention requires additional testing before the technique is confirmed for the general population.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
In the current study, Matthew Golden, M.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues randomly assigned 23 of 25 local health jurisdictions in Washington to one of four study groups.
The program was rolled out sequentially at six to eight month intervals, and the outcomes were compared between groups, and within groups, before and after the intervention.
Although clinical trials of EPT have shown that the approach increases partner treatment and decreases gonorrhea and chlamydial reinfection rates, EPT has not been widely adopted in the US.
The researchers designed this study primarily to test whether promotion of EPT could reduce disease transmission. EPT was marketed to the physicians through educational seminars, supplying them with free partner treatment packs, and by making free packs available through commercial pharmacies for doctors to prescribe for their patients’ partners.
The results show that EPT use almost doubled following institution of the study intervention. There was also a reduction for the two diseases they measured, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
However, over the entire 22-month study period there was a substantial overall reduction of both diseases in Washington (also seen, to a lesser degree, in rates of gonorrhea in neighboring states).
This background drop, together with other changing circumstances that were unrelated to the trial but might have influenced the results, made it harder for the researchers to detect statistically significant changes in STDs resulting from the study intervention.
The researchers estimate that the program was responsible for an approximately 10 percent reduction in both diseases, but this result was not statistically significant.
Investigators believe the study provides a model for other health departments to expand use of EPT as a public health intervention.