Background: Expedited partner therapy (EPT), the practice of treating the sex partners of persons with sexually transmitted infections without their medical evaluation, increases partner treatment and decreases gonorrhea and chlamydia reinfection rates. We conducted a stepped-wedge, community-level randomized trial to determine whether a public health intervention promoting EPT could increase its use and decrease chlamydia test positivity and gonorrhea incidence in women.
Methods and findings: The trial randomly assigned local health jurisdictions (LHJs) in Washington State, US, into four study waves. Waves instituted the intervention in randomly assigned order at intervals of 6-8 mo. Of the state's 25 LHJs, 24 were eligible and 23 participated. Heterosexual individuals with gonorrhea or chlamydial infection were eligible for the intervention. The study made free patient-delivered partner therapy (PDPT) available to clinicians, and provided public health partner services based on clinician referral. The main study outcomes were chlamydia test positivity among women ages 14-25 y in 219 sentinel clinics, and incidence of reported gonorrhea in women, both measured at the community level. Receipt of PDPT from clinicians was evaluated among randomly selected patients. 23 and 22 LHJs provided data on gonorrhea and chlamydia outcomes, respectively. The intervention increased the percentage of persons receiving PDPT from clinicians (from 18% to 34%, p < 0.001) and the percentage receiving partner services (from 25% to 45%, p < 0.001). Chlamydia test positivity and gonorrhea incidence in women decreased over the study period, from 8.2% to 6.5% and from 59.6 to 26.4 per 100,000, respectively. After adjusting for temporal trends, the intervention was associated with an approximately 10% reduction in both chlamydia positivity and gonorrhea incidence, though the confidence bounds on these outcomes both crossed one (chlamydia positivity prevalence ratio = 0.89, 95% CI 0.77-1.04, p = 0.15; gonorrhea incidence rate ratio = 0.91, 95% CI .71-1.16, p = 0.45). Study findings were potentially limited by inadequate statistical power, by the institution of some aspects of the study intervention outside of the research randomization sequence, and by the fact that LHJs did not constitute truly isolated sexual networks.
Conclusions: A public health intervention promoting the use of free PDPT substantially increased its use and may have resulted in decreased chlamydial and gonococcal infections at the population level.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01665690.