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Study suggests gap in treatment of sexually transmitted diseases among teens

17.09.2012
California's pediatricians-in-training are not adequately educated about the methods to prevent recurrent sexually transmitted infections in teenagers.

That's the conclusion of a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital examining pediatric residents' knowledge of laws governing treatment of their patients' sexual partners.

"Unless you treat the partner, your patient gets re-infected," Neville Golden, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at Packard Children's and professor of pediatrics at Stanford. "We call this the 'ping-pong effect.'"

Indeed, even after receiving antibiotics to clear their infections, 40 percent of teenage gonorrhea and chlamydia patients are diagnosed with a second bout of the same illness within a year. About half of all sexually transmitted infections in this country occur in teenagers.

Golden is the senior author of a study to be published Sept. 17 in Pediatrics that examines whether California pediatric residents - new physicians receiving specialty training in pediatric medicine - know about expedited partner therapy, which helps doctors stop sexually transmitted diseases from bouncing back and forth within a couple. About half of pediatric residents had never used the practice, in spite of the fact that most had diagnosed STDs among their patients, the study found. Knowledge of expedited partner therapy was better in physicians enrolled in the state's three residency programs that offer fellowships in adolescent medicine.

Expedited partner therapy laws, which were introduced in California in 2001 and have since been adopted in 30 other states, allow physicians to prescribe antibiotics to the sexual partners of gonorrhea or chlamydia patients without seeing the partner. Prior to 2001, laws authorized state health departments to contact sexual partners of people diagnosed with these infections and to test and treat the partners. However, most health departments lack the resources to offer this service widely. Expedited partner therapy has been shown to be an effective alternative, especially in cases where the patient says his or her partner is unlikely to visit a doctor.

The study focused on 289 pediatric resident physicians enrolled in 14 of California's 17 pediatric residency programs. The pediatricians-in-training answered a questionnaire about their use of expedited partner therapy, their familiarity with EPT laws and their comfort with using the approach. Although 83 percent of those surveyed had diagnosed an STD, only 52 percent had used EPT. A large percentage of the physicians questioned - nearly 70 percent - knew that California law allows EPT for chlamydia and gonorrhea treatment, but many inaccurately believed the policy also applied to other STDs. In addition, 87 percent of residents said that their lack of familiarity with EPT laws was a barrier to their use of the approach; only 24 percent said they had ever been taught about EPT; and residents who were further along in their training did not have better knowledge of EPT, suggesting a significant opportunity for increased instruction on the subject.

The results suggest that the lack of familiarity with EPT extends beyond residents to more experienced pediatricians, the research team said. "You learn from your mentors," said Anne Hsii, MD, the study's first author. "It may be that many of our pediatrician mentors don't know about these laws." Hsii was an adolescent medicine fellow at Stanford when the study was conducted and is now a pediatrician at two outpatient clinics associated with Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. The findings underscore the need for a more systematic approach to incorporating EPT information into pediatricians' training, Hsii said.

Golden noted that the best way for adolescents to deal with STDs is to avoid getting them in the first place. He encouraged parents of teenagers to talk to their kids about sexual health. "If parents can speak to their children about protecting against sexually transmitted infections, that's very useful," he said. "Obviously, using protection such as condoms is the best way to prevent these infections."

But regardless of whether parents weigh in, it's the responsibility of pediatricians to broach the subject with teens, and parents should ensure that their adolescent children have time to have confidential conversations with their pediatricians, without mom or dad present.

"The best person other than a parent for teens to talk to about these issues is the pediatrician," Golden said.

Paula Hillard, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford; and Sophia Yen, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford and an adolescent medicine specialist at Packard Children's Hospital, also collaborated with Golden and Hsii on the research. The study received no external funding.

The Stanford University School of Medicine consistently ranks among the nation's top medical schools, integrating research, medical education, patient care and community service. For more news about the school, please visit http://mednews.stanford.edu. The medical school is part of Stanford Medicine, which includes Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. For information about all three, please visit http://stanfordmedicine.org/about/news.html.

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford is an internationally recognized 311-bed hospital, research center and leading regional medical network providing the full complement of services for the health of children and expectant mothers. In partnership with the Stanford University School of Medicine, our world-class doctors and nurses deliver innovative, family-centered care in every pediatric and obstetric specialty, tailored to every patient. Packard Children's is annually ranked as one of the nation's best pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & World Report and is the only Northern California children's hospital with specialty programs ranked in the U.S. News Top 10. Learn more about us at www.lpch.org and about our continuing growth at growing.lpch.org. Like us on Facebook, watch us on YouTube and follow us on Twitter.

PRINT MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Digitale at (650) 724-9175 (digitale@stanford.edu)

BROADCAST MEDIA CONTACT: Robert Dicks at (650) 497-8364 (rdicks@lpch.org)

Erin Digitale | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

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