You’ve probably seen reports that the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States are at an all-time high. Even with millennials having less sex with fewer sexual partners than generations past, there were still 1.8 million cases of chlamydia and more than 580,000 cases of gonorrhea in 2018. This is actually record-breaking—and not in a good way.
Regular STI screenings are critical if you’re sexually active, especially since some STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia may lack obvious symptoms. And, of course, treatment is vital if you test positive. But just as important is for your sexual partner to be treated so you don’t end up passing the STI back and forth.
I get it. It may be hard to convince your partner to take time off work or miss a class to get that checkup, but what if your doctor were able to give you a prescription to treat your partner’s infection, without ever having to see them? Don’t think it’s possible?
Yup, it totally is—through a treatment method called expedited partner therapy (EPT). Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, you’re not the only one. I’ve done the research for you and come up with some of the most important things you need to know about how this treatment really works.
Umm … Expedited Partner What?
First things first: Expedited partner therapy is usually offered to heterosexual couples diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia (it may also be given for trichomoniasis in some states). Your provider will treat your infection and give you a prescription for your partner. No copays or awkward visits for your partner. Your doctor will simply hand over a prescription that they can fill at any pharmacy, but you should still encourage them to see someone to talk about testing for other STIs like HIV.
What About Expedited Partner Therapy and Gay Men?
So here’s the thing: EPT is not usually recommended for men having sex with men (MSM), simply because there hasn’t been enough research to show that this treatment is effective for this group. Studies suggest that when compared with heterosexual sex partners, male sex partners of MSM are at higher risk for undiagnosed HIV and other STIs that are not well managed by EPT. But change may be on the horizon, as a recent study showed that if EPT were used in 20% of men who have sex with men, STIs could decrease by as much as 27%. Researchers did, however, point out a few issues when this therapy was used, like missed opportunities for HIV screening and overuse of antibiotics in partners who did not truly have a sexually transmitted infection.
So, Tell Me More About the Prescription
Your doctor can give you a prescription to treat any sex partner that you’ve had in the past 60 days, and you can also expect your doctor to provide all of the following:
- A description of the infection being treated
- The name of the medicine and possible side effects
- The reasons why some people may not be able to take the medicine
- A list of locations where your partner can access STI testing for free or at a reduced cost
So … What About the Medicine?
A single dose of an oral antibiotic is usually enough to clear up a chlamydial infection, but treating gonorrhea does require a little more work. Because of its increased resistance to some medicines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed how gonorrhea is treated. Your partner should prepare for a visit to the clinic, where they will be given a shot and a one-time dose of an oral antibiotic.
Although you both might be eager to start hooking up again after finishing treatment, it’s better to wait at least seven days to give the medicine a chance to clear up the infection.
Schedule a follow-up appointment for retesting in three months to be sure you and your partner haven’t developed any new infection.
Who Pays for the Prescription? And How Much Does It Really Cost?
The short answer is that it varies from state to state, but generally your partner is responsible for the cost of the medicine. If they have prescription coverage, they can give their insurance info to the pharmacist so their health plan can be billed. No insurance? No problem, your partner can contact a local health department, federally qualified health center, or a family planning clinic for treatment. Oftentimes, they will provide this service for free or at a lower cost. Use your zip code to find the clinics nearest to you.
So Is Expedited Partner Therapy Available Everywhere?
Not just yet. Over the past decade, many states have taken the necessary steps to make EPT legal. As of December 2019, it is legal in 44 states. In Alabama, Kansas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, there aren’t any specific laws prohibiting doctors from prescribing EPT, but certain laws in place make it hard for them to carry it out. South Carolina is the only state where health care professionals are forbidden from prescribing EPT altogether, but, hopefully, this will change soon.
I Get That EPT Is Convenient, but Why Is It Important?
For a couple of reasons. First, sexually transmitted infections aren’t always obvious, since your partner may not have any symptoms—and the infection can still spread. For women, untreated gonorrhea and chlamydial infection can lead to serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Second, using expedited partner therapy has been shown to reduce STI reinfection rates. A recent study found that partners who used EPT were 29% less likely to develop an infection again compared to those who were only encouraged to seek treatment at a doctor’s office.
So If EPT Is so Great, Why Isn’t Everyone Using It?
Good question. Stigma associated with STIs deters people from testing and treatment. Some people may not be aware of EPT, so they don’t ask for it during their appointment, while others may not feel comfortable giving their partner a prescription for STI treatment.
The cost can also be a deterrent, as some insurance companies are not currently covering EPT.
Treatment using EPT may also be difficult if a doctor doesn’t know about it or is resistant to prescribing medication without seeing the patient first.
EPT for Me
Even with skyrocketing STI rates, the good news is that gonorrhea and chlamydia infections are treatable. If you think you have an STI, there is no need to panic. Get yourself tested, treated, and ask your doctor for expedited partner therapy to improve the ease and convenience of care for you and your partner.