By Lead writer: Louise Sloan
Updated: April 02, 2008

couple-doctor-prescriptionGetting STD tests together is ideal, but taking home extra drugs works too.(DAVID P. HALL/CORBIS)More and more doctors and clinics around the U.S. are adopting "expedited partner therapy" for patients diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia. Now when you're treated for one of these highly infectious sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), your doctor may send you home with pills for your sex partner too.

"Research has now shown that's the most practical way to treat partners," says H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert who was part of the team behind this policy shift. It's uncommon for partners to come in for treatment together, he explains; prescribing enough pills for two makes a big difference in the numbers treated—although it does hinge on thepatient at least acknowledging to the partner that he or she has the STD.

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It makes such a big difference, in fact, that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now officially recommends expedited partner therapy, even though the practice is technically illegal in some states because of pharmacy laws. Dr. Handsfield believes most providers follow the CDC recommendations now rather than "outdated" state laws. "The wording says that if local laws and regulations are not consistent with this policy, states are strongly encouraged to look at the laws and address whether a change needs to be made," he says.

Whatever the long-term value of expedited partner therapy as good public-health practice, it's not the ideal. "It's always best if the partner comes in," says Dr. Handsfield, because then the couple can be screened for other health issues and receive more individualized care.