US health officials have proposed a new guideline that could offer a preventive ‘morning-after pill’ approach using the common antibiotic doxycycline to help reduce the risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea among gay and bisexual men and transgender women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the proposal on Monday and will proceed with finalizing it after a 45-day public comment period.
This initiative comes as STD rates in the US have reached record levels, leading health officials to seek additional preventive measures.
Recent studies have shown that individuals who took doxycycline within three days of unprotected sex were significantly less likely to contract these STDs than those who did not take the antibiotic post-sex.
The proposed guideline focuses on gay and bisexual men and transgender women who had a previous STD in the past 12 months and are at high risk of reinfection.
While less evidence supports this approach in other groups, including heterosexual men and women, the CDC believes that ongoing research may provide more insights into its effectiveness.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who oversees the CDC’s STD efforts, emphasizes the need for innovation in STD prevention, noting that this initiative is one of the few primary prevention measures introduced in recent decades.
Doxycycline is an inexpensive antibiotic with over 40 years of use for various health issues, including acne and chlamydia.
The CDC’s recommendation is based on several studies demonstrating its effectiveness against bacterial STDs.
Revolutionizing STDs Prevention
One influential study found that individuals at risk who took doxycycline were up to 90% less likely to contract chlamydia, 80% less likely to get syphilis, and over 50% less likely to get gonorrhea compared to those who did not use the antibiotic post-exposure.
San Francisco’s health department began promoting doxycycline as a morning-after prevention measure last year in response to rising infection rates.
Other city, county, and state health departments, primarily on the West Coast, followed suit.
Dr. Stephanie Cohen, overseeing STD prevention work in San Francisco, expressed the situation’s urgency and the need for immediate action.
Dr. Taimur Khan shared similar sentiments at Fenway Health in Boston, where around 1,000 patients currently use doxycycline in this preventive manner.
The CDC’s guideline is expected to have a significant impact, as many doctors hesitated to discuss this approach with their patients until it received official support.
However, it is crucial to monitor for potential antibiotic resistance, which could arise if doxycycline is widely used for prevention.
Common side effects of doxycycline include stomach problems and sun-related skin rashes, and its effectiveness in heterosexual women has been less consistent in research studies.
Monitoring for antibiotic resistance is essential to prevent the development of drug-resistant bacteria.