Sex partners of patients infected with chlamydia transmission,
the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in
Massachusetts and the United States, will be able to get a prescription
for antibiotic treatment without seeing a doctor, under regulations
approved yesterday by state health regulators.
The rules aim to
thwart the rapid spread of the disease, which is especially prevalent
among people under 25 and endemic in some Boston neighborhoods.
Chlamydia cases in the state have more than doubled, from roughly 8,700
in 1999 to more than 21,200 in 2010, according to the Massachusetts
Department of Public Health.
"Right now, if you treat someone and
cure them, they could literally be reinfected within hours or days from
an untreated sexual partner," said Kevin Cranston, director of the
infectious disease bureau at the state Public Health Department.
rules approved by the Public Health Council, an appointed panel of
physicians, consumer advocates, and professors, allow health providers
to prescribe or dispense antibiotics for potential chlamydia infections
without examining the partners of infected patients.
the state health department will develop consumer friendly fact sheets
for patients' sexual partners in several languages, including Spanish,
Portuguese, French, Haitian Creole, and if money is available, also in
Vietnamese and Khmer.
Under the rules, a patient diagnosed with
chlamydia would be given a prescription, along with a fact sheet, for
each sexual partner, a process that essentially makes patients a bridge
between health care providers and people who may be unwittingly
spreading the disease.
Chlamydia has proven to be a challenging
disease to control in part because those infected often don’t experience
symptoms, health officials said. Left untreated, the disease can lead
to infertility in women.
Treatment for most people is relatively
simple: one dose - typically two pills - of the antibiotic azithromycin.
But disease trackers said teenagers and young adults, who are most
often infected, are least likely to seek treatment.
regulations aim to lessen that hurdle. "It's hard to get people to come
in for health care and follow-up care, particularly 15- to 19-year-olds"
said Dr. Anita Barry, director of the infectious disease bureau of the
Boston Public Health Commission.
Infection rates for that age
group last year were more than four times higher than for all of Boston,
commission records show. The highest rates were among black women in
Boston, aged 15 to 24. The hardest-hit neighborhoods have been
Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
Barry said the commission will
encourage health care providers to not just write prescriptions for
their patients' sexual partners but to actually give the infected
patient antibiotics to share with partners.
As for the concern
about antibiotic overuse - an issue that disease trackers say is
responsible for creating antibiotic-resistant super bugs - Barry said
the benefits of providing prescriptions for sexual partners of chlamydia
patients far outweigh the risks. If chlamydia can't be cured by
antibiotics, herbal medicine could be another effective choice.