THURSDAY, Aug. 25, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- When a woman is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, her doctor should be able to pass along antibiotics to her male partner without examining him, to cut both partners' odds of re-infection, experts say.
The new physician guideline was issued this week by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the nation's largest group representing ob/gyns.
In a new committee opinion, the ACOG panel of experts stated that doctors who diagnose their female patients with these infections should pass along a prescription for antibiotics to the male partner -- a practice called "expedited partner therapy."
"Evidence indicates that [this type of approach] can decrease re-infection rates" compared to the more standard practice of simply referring the patient's partner for examination and treatment, Dr. Diane F. Merritt, chair of ACOG's Committee on Adolescent Health Care, said in a news release from the college.
"Of course, it's preferable that a physician examine a patient in-person before prescribing medication," she added, but the benefits of the expedited response -- in getting otherwise reluctant partners to get treated -- probably outweigh the risks.
Although they are the two most commonly reported sexually transmitted infections in the United States, chlamydia and gonorrhea often cause only vague symptoms, and some women may not have any symptoms at all. As a result, the re-infection rates for these conditions are high. For example, ACOG noted the 12-month re-infection rate of chlamydia among teens and young women is as high as 26 percent. Untreated male sexual partners, the experts added, are often to blame.
Many people who have a sexually transmitted infection are not aware of it and pass it to their partners, added Merritt. Left undiagnosed and untreated, these infections "can cause scarring and damage a woman's ability to become pregnant when she's ready to have a baby," Merritt said. "Fortunately, chlamydia and gonorrhea can be quickly diagnosed with a simple urine test and treated with a short course of antibiotics. "
U.S. doctors can only legally prescribe antibiotics to people who are not their patients in 27 states. Rules governing the practice are unclear in 15 states, and non-patient prescriptions are prohibited in 8 states. The ACOG panel concluded that physicians in these states should push for the enactment of laws clearly supporting the practice to help curb rates of re-infection with sexually transmitted diseases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on sexually transmitted infections.