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Chlamydia, STD Rates Soar in U.S.

Teenage Girls, Young Women Have Top Rates of Fertility-Robbing Infection
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America's No. 1 STD: Chlamydia continued...

The situation is so bad the CDC has started urging doctors to give young women a dose of antibiotics to take home to their sex partners. They're calling this "expedited partner therapy."

"With expedited partner therapy, which is the partner receiving antibiotic treatment without a formal medical evaluation, we have shown we can reduce rates of reinfection if women deliver the therapy to their partners," Douglas said. "We have completed a legal analysis, and now there are 11 states where we have formally determined it is legal. In other states, laws are not in support or are ambiguous. This is a relatively important prevention approach."

But the biggest problem with chlamydia is people who don't think they're at risk.

"The finding that chlamydia rates are highest in young women is almost universal," Berman said. "If health care providers think the young women in their practice don't have chlamydia, they should think again."

The Specter of Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea

Doctors only gradually became aware of the significance of chlamydia in the 1980s. They've known about gonorrhea far longer. And, since a relatively quick way to test for the infection became available in the 1970s, public health officials have been fighting the disease.

That battle looked successful in the years 1975-1997, which saw a 75% drop in gonorrhea infections. But now rates are going up again. One big problem is the rise of drug-resistant gonorrhea.

Nearly 14% of gonorrhea infections in 2006 were resistant to the fluoroquinolone antibiotics traditionally used to fight the disease. That means the drugs should no longer be used against gonorrhea, Douglas says.

That's a big problem, because there's only one remaining class of antibiotics left to fight gonorrhea: cephalosporins. Fortunately, Douglas says, researchers have not yet detected a strain of gonorrhea resistant to this drug.

But he says other germs have learned to resist the drug and that there's no reason gonorrhea could not eventually learn this trick.

"When that happens, it can be a sudden and abrupt change from drug-susceptible to not susceptible at all," Douglas says. "What would happen if we lost this class of drugs? We would have to turn to classes of antibiotics not previously explored against gonorrhea. That might have challenges such as requiring multiple doses or multiple drug combinations."

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