Lawmakers pass new program to fight STDs

April 09, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore health officials hope they will be able to help stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in Baltimore with a novel program passed by Maryland lawmakers.

The three-year pilot project approved by the General Assembly would permit doctors to give patients with gonorrhea and chlamydia antibiotics for themselves and their sexual partners, even if they haven't been treated by medical personnel.

"The governor has said he will sign it," said Sasha Leonhardt, a spokesman for the governor. "He's going to stand by the expert opinions of doctors and medical experts."

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city's health commissioner, who sought the legislation, said he is pleased that the measure passed the Senate and House of Delegates with few changes.

"There are a variety of strategies that we have to reduce the number of sexually transmitted diseases, and this is a highly recommended and effective one. So I'm glad that we'll have this to use in Baltimore," he said.

The program would cost the city Health Department about $29,930 a year.

Current protocol requires city medical personnel to send patients home with "partner notification cards" asking for their partners to come in for examination.

The new system, called expedited partner therapy, was endorsed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year.

Similar programs exist in California and Tennessee, and up to 10 other states have laws that allow for the practice in some form, CDC officials have said.

Baltimore's chlamydia and gonorrhea rates are often among the highest in the state.

The number of new chlamydia cases in Baltimore rose from 5,433 in 2001 to 6,380 in 2005, according to state figures. New gonorrhea cases, however, fell from 5,603 in 2000 to 3,489 in 2005.

In a Seattle test, the program reduced gonorrhea reinfection rates by 68 percent.

Chlamydia is the most frequently reported STD nationwide, with an estimated 2.8 million people infected each year, according to the CDC. If untreated, it can lead to reproductive and other health problems in women.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial STD that affects up to 700,000 people a year. If left untreated in women, it can lead to inflammatory pelvic disease, which can cause chronic pain and infertility, according to the CDC.

Sharfstein stressed the importance of the pilot program.

"I think this is a great strategy to have, but it's not the only strategy," he said. "It's not a magic bullet, but it should be very helpful."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.