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Innovative STD Treatment OK’ed in Illinois

A new law in Illinois (SB212) allows doctors to provide medication to partners of people who have gonorrhea and chlamydia without having personally diagnosed those individuals.

“It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” said John Peller, director of government relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Peller was involved in the drafting of the bill, which took effect Jan. 1.

CDC Statistics from 2008 show Cook County as having the highest number of gonorrhea cases in the country and the second highest number of chlamydia cases.

State Sen. David Koehler (D-Pekin), the bill’s main backer, struggled to include a controversial clause providing access for minors between the ages of 12 and 17, a necessary feature to include, said Peller.

Before the new law took effect, minors in Illinois could seek treatment for sexually transmitted diseases themselves, without parental consent. Now, any patient over 12 years of age who is diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea may be prescribed medication for their partner at the physician’s discretion.

This expedited partner therapy gives access to treatment for individuals unlikely to seek treatment themselves. But some said that giving this medication to minors is a bad idea.

“They’re too immature to be making those kinds of decisions,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), one of six Republican state senators who opposed the bill.

Syverson also raised issue in the Senate that giving medication to minors may lead to the perception that their sexual practices are safe. And this may lead to making poor decisions in the future.

Statistics from the CDC show that minors are among an age group that is most likely to be diagnosed with STDs. When drafting the bill, doctors recommended that expedited partner therapy be available to these minors, said Peller.

Part of the law’s success is reaching a population who wouldn’t have had access to treatment before — in part because of the law’s anonymity from having to seek treatment directly, which some teenagers may find embarrassing, said Peller.

“Youth should not suffer the consequences of life-long STD (diagnoses),” he said.

And for diseases like chlamydia — of which the CDC reported 59,169 cases in Illinois, nearly triple the cases of gonorrhea — it is difficult to recognize symptoms in time to stop the spread of the disease.

“Fifty percent of chlamydia (cases) are asymptomatic — meaning no signs — making it one of the most easily spread (STDs),” Peller said.

Illinois is the 22nd state to implement a form of partner therapy as a tool against the spread of STDs. In California, where patient-delivered partner therapy (PDPT) has been legal since 2001, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has had no reports of adverse events, agency spokesman Ron Owens wrote in an e-mail.

In California, partners of those infected by an STD received treatment nearly twice as often when the treatment came via patient-delivered therapy (77 percent), rather than when a doctor simply told the infected person that their partner should come in for treatment (40 percent), Owens wrote.

In Cook County, this could mean that of the 34,257 chlamydia cases reported in 2008, 26,377 partners could have had indirect access to treatment. But because medical specialists recommend that a patient be diagnosed directly by a physician, patient referral is still the most common practice used by doctors.

In a survey of eight California family-planning settings, patient-delivered partner therapy was used 20 percent of the time, while traditional patient referral was used half the time, wrote Owens.

But Illinois’ new law is a step in the right direction for treating high STD numbers.

“It’s really a symptom of the broken health care system. People can’t get access to some of the basic diagnoses and treatment,” said Peller.

For the nearest Illinois STD clinic, click here.

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