- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To stem a rising tide of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States — which now affect one in four teenage girls — women treated for curable STDs may be given drugs to treat their male partners in case the males don’t see a doctor, a federal official said.

The new strategy — “expedited partner therapy” or EPT — is a “promising approach,” Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the Division of STD Prevention, said yesterday at the agency’s STD prevention conference in Chicago.

Under EPT, doctors treating women infected with curable STDs “prescribe or provide the same treatment for the women’s male partners,” Dr. Douglas said. “In this way, men who may not have a physician or who may be reluctant to seek health care because they themselves don’t have symptoms, can get treated without having to visit a doctor themselves.”

Women treated for curable STDs should be retested about three months, so if reinfection has occurred, it can be quickly treated, Dr. Douglas said.

A third CDC-recommended strategy is to conduct “routine HIV testing for all individuals, male and female, ages 13 to 64, regardless of perceived risk,” Dr. Douglas added. “HIV remains an incurable disease, and infection with an STI can significantly facilitate HIV transmission and acquisition.”

Dr. Douglas’ remarks came after the release of a CDC study said that 26 percent of teenage girls, ages 14 to 19, are infected with at least one common sexually transmitted disease.

Last year, the CDC reported that rates of three curable STDs are rising.

Taken together, these reports indicate that the nation is losing ground in its fight against sexually transmitted diseases — a public health problem that was called a “silent epidemic” as far back as 1997.

“Current public health policies are clearly failing to reduce the spread of STDs among young women,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, who lambasted sex education that “encourages kids to be sexually active,” privacy rules that block parents from learning about medical treatments for their teens, and government approval to issue “emergency contraception” (EC) pills without prescriptions that allow sexually active teens and women to skip doctor’s visits.

However, comprehensive sex education, over-the-counter EC and confidentiality for teen health care are widely supported by public health and medical organizations.

At the STD conference yesterday, CDC researcher Dr. Sara Forhan said her study was the first to examine combined prevalence of common STDs in adolescent girls in the United States.

She and her colleagues reviewed data from 838 teenage girls who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2004. Female participants provided specimens for STD testing as part of the survey.

“What we found is alarming,” Dr. Forhan said, with almost 26 percent of teens having “any” of the four most common STDs. Human papillomavirus (HPV) was the most common, with 18 percent prevalence, and herpes simplex virus was the least common, with 2 percent prevalence.

HPV, which is spread by skin-to-skin contact, causes genital warts and can lead to cervical and other kinds of cancers. Herpes, which also is spread skin-to-skin, causes ulcerous outbreaks on genitalia and greatly raises the risk for Caesarean section delivery for infected pregnant women. Both HPV and herpes are considered treatable but incurable.

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