Lehigh County Health & Medicine Winter 2019 - 21

L C M E D S O C .O R G

Stopping
the Spread
OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS
BY TOM BRODHEAD, SHERI HILT, AND RENEE TEDDER,
Disease Intervention Specialists of the Allentown Health Bureau

S

wimming in the ocean, using a public bathroom, or using the towels at the gym - all
reasons that people suspect cause their Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). After
all, their sexual partners are "safe," despite not using any barrier methods or prior
testing for STIs. But we know that untreated sexual partners are a critical concern
and a barrier to stopping the spread of STIs and preventing patients from getting re-infected.
Local health bureaus house the hard-working public servants striving to reduce, and ultimately
eliminate, STIs in the community. One of the most powerful tools in this quest is Partner Services.
Contact with infectious bodily fluids, such as vaginal secretions, semen, and blood, is how
Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis and HIV are spread. Syphilis transmission also occurs by contact
with a primary chancre. The commonality is that these infections are spread primarily through
unprotected sex. Hence, a combination of testing, treatment, and education is the primary action
plan for combating the spread of STIs.

Partner Services, the concept of reaching out to the sexual partners of confirmed cases of STIs
and offering testing, has been heavily utilized as an intervention specific to newly diagnosed HIV
patients. Partner Services prevents HIV negative individuals from becoming positive and has
applications for all STIs. Treating STI positive patients is reactive. Partner Services is intended to
be proactive in nature because there is intervention hopefully before infection occurs or quickly
after exposure. The ideology remains the same: test, treat, and educate. The advantage is that
Partner Services interviewing identifies high risk individuals. This gathering of sexual partner
information from STI positive individuals is paired with coordinating an appropriate outreach,
making it an efficient and effective intervention to reach those exposed and encourage them to
protect themselves.
The process of Partner Services, although ideally done for all STIs, has critical importance
in the role of reducing the spread of HIV. Partner Services is offered to all newly diagnosed
HIV patients by Disease Investigation staff specifically trained in Partner Services delivery.
Physicians contact local or state health departments to schedule Partner Services staff to attend
the appointment where patients are first delivered HIV positive test results. During the process,
HIV patients are interviewed to determine sexual partners for the three months prior to the
patients last negative HIV test or complete a sexual history, if they have never been tested for
HIV before this visit. (This process of interviewing can also be used for Syphilis, Chlamydia,
and Gonorrhea, although timelines and additional symptomatic questions are tailored for each
infection's mode of transmission.)
Continued on page 22
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