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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines --- 2002

Prepared by
Kimberly A. Workowski, M.D.
William C. Levine, M.D., M.Sc. 

The material in this report was prepared for publication by the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, Harold W. Jaffe, M.D., Acting Director; and the Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention, Harold W. Jaffe, M.D., Acting Director.


These guidelines for the treatment of patients who have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after consultation with a group of professionals knowledgeable in the field of STDs who met in Atlanta on September 26--28, 2000.  Included in these updated guidelines are new alternative regimens for scabies, bacterial vaginosis, early syphilis, and granuloma inguinale; an expanded section on the diagnosis of genital herpes (including type-specific serologic tests); new recommendations for treatment of recurrent genital herpes among persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); a revised approach to the management of victims of sexual assault; expanded regimens for the treatment of urethral meatal warts; and inclusion of hepatitis C as a sexually transmitted infection. In addition, these guidelines emphasize education and counseling for persons infected with human papillomavirus, clarify the diagnostic evaluation of congenital syphilis, and present information regarding the emergence of quinolone-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae and implications for treatment. Recommendations also are provided for vaccine-preventable STDs, including hepatitis A and hepatitis B.


Physicians and other health-care providers play a critical role in preventing and treating sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These recommendations for the treatment of STDs are intended to assist with that effort. Although these guidelines emphasize treatment, prevention strategies and diagnostic recommendations also are discussed.

This report was produced through a multi-stage process. Beginning in 2000, CDC personnel and professionals knowledgeable in the field of STDs systematically reviewed literature (i.e., published abstracts and peer-reviewed journal articles) concerning each of the major STDs, focusing on information that had become available since publication of the 1998 Guidelines for Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (). Background papers were written and tables of evidence constructed summarizing the type of study (e.g., randomized controlled trial or case series), study population and setting, treatments or other interventions, outcome measures assessed, reported findings, and weaknesses and biases in study design and analysis. A draft document was developed on the basis of the reviews.

In September 2000, CDC staff members and invited consultants assembled in Atlanta for a 3-day meeting to present the key questions regarding STD treatment that emerged from the literature reviews and the information available to answer those questions. When relevant, the questions focused on four principal outcomes of STD therapy for each individual disease: a) microbiologic cure, b) alleviation of signs and symptoms, c) prevention of sequelae, and d) prevention of transmission. Cost-effectiveness and other advantages (e.g., single-dose formulations and directly observed therapy [DOT]) of specific regimens also were discussed. The consultants then assessed whether the questions identified were relevant, ranked them in order of priority, and attempted to arrive at answers using the available evidence. In addition, the consultants evaluated the quality of evidence supporting the answers on the basis of the number, type, and quality of the studies.

In several areas, the process diverged from that previously described. The sections concerning adolescents and hepatitis A, B, and C infections were developed by other CDC staff members knowledgeable in this field. The recommendations for STD screening during pregnancy were developed after CDC staff reviewed the published recommendations from other knowledgeable groups. The sections concerning early human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are a compilation of recommendations developed by CDC staff members knowledgeable in the field of HIV infection. The sections on hepatitis B virus (HBV) () and hepatitis A virus (HAV) () infections are based on previously published recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Throughout this report, the evidence used as the basis for specific recommendations is discussed briefly. More comprehensive, annotated discussions of such evidence will appear in background papers that will be published in a supplement issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. When more than one therapeutic regimen is recommended, the sequence is alphabetized unless the choices for therapy are prioritized based on efficacy, convenience, or cost. For STDs with more than one recommended regimen, almost all regimens have similar efficacy and similar rates of intolerance or toxicity unless otherwise specified.

These recommendations were developed in consultation with public- and private-sector professionals knowledgeable in the treatment of patients with STDs. They are applicable to various patient-care settings, including family planning clinics, private physicians' offices, managed care organizations, and other primary-care facilities. When using these guidelines, the disease prevalence and other characteristics of the medical practice setting should be considered. These recommendations should be regarded as a source of clinical guidance and not as standards or inflexible rules. These guidelines focus on the treatment and counseling of individual patients and do not address other community services and interventions that are important in STD/HIV prevention.


Clinical Prevention Guidelines

The prevention and control of STDs is based on the following five major concepts: a) education and counseling of persons at risk on ways to adopt safer sexual behavior; b) identification of asymptomatically infected persons and of symptomatic persons unlikely to seek diagnostic and treatment services; c) effective diagnosis and treatment of infected persons; d) evaluation, treatment, and counseling of sex partners of persons who are infected with an STD; and e) preexposure vaccination of persons at risk for vaccine-preventable STDs. Although this report focuses mainly on the clinical aspects of STD control, primary prevention of STDs begins with changing the sexual behaviors that place persons at risk for infection. Moreover, because STD control activities reduce the likelihood of transmission to sex partners, treatment of infected persons constitutes primary prevention of spread within the community.

Clinicians have a unique opportunity to provide education and counseling to their patients. As part of the clinical interview, health-care providers can obtain sexual histories from their patients. Guidance in obtaining a sexual history is available in Contraceptive Technology, 17th edition (4).

Prevention Messages

Prevention messages should be tailored to the patient, with consideration given to the patient's specific risk factors for STDs. Messages should include a description of specific actions that the patient can take to avoid acquiring or transmitting STDs (e.g., abstinence from sexual activity if STD-related symptoms develop).

If risk factors are identified, providers should encourage patients to adopt safer sexual behaviors. Counseling skills (e.g., respect, compassion, and a nonjudgmental attitude) are essential to the effective delivery of prevention messages. Techniques that can be effective in facilitating rapport with the patient include using open-ended questions, using understandable language, and reassuring the patient that treatment will be provided regardless of circumstances unique to individual patients (including ability to pay, citizenship or immigration status, language spoken, or lifestyle).

Many patients seeking treatment or screening for STDs expect evaluation for all common STDs; all patients should be specifically informed if testing for a common STD (e.g., genital herpes and human papillomavirus [HPV]) is not performed.

Sexual Transmission

The most reliable way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from sexual intercourse (i.e., oral, vaginal, or anal sex) or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Counseling that encourages abstinence from sexual intercourse is crucial for persons who are being treated for an STD or whose partners are undergoing treatment and for persons who wish to avoid the possible consequences of sexual intercourse (e.g., STD/HIV and unintended pregnancy). A more comprehensive discussion of abstinence and the range of sexual expression is available in Contraceptive Technology, 17th edition (4).

  • Both partners should get tested for STDs, including HIV, before initiating sexual intercourse.
  • If a person chooses to have sexual intercourse with a partner whose infection status is unknown or who is infected with HIV or another STD, a new condom should be used for each act of insertive intercourse.

Preexposure Vaccination

Preexposure vaccination is one of the most effective methods for preventing transmission of certain STDs. For example, because hepatitis B virus infection frequently is sexually transmitted, hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all unvaccinated persons being evaluated for an STD. In addition, hepatitis A vaccine is currently licensed and is recommended for men who have sex with men (MSM) and illegal drug users (both injection and non-injection). Vaccine trials for other STDs are being conducted, and additional vaccines may become available in the next several years.

Prevention Methods

Male Condoms

When used consistently and correctly, male latex condoms are effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and can reduce the risk for other STDs (i.e., gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomonas). However, because condoms do not cover all exposed areas, they are likely to be more effective in preventing infections transmitted by fluids from mucosal surfaces (e.g., gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and HIV) than in preventing those transmitted by skin-to-skin contact (e.g., herpes simplex virus [HSV], HPV, syphilis, and chancroid). Condoms are regulated as medical devices and are subject to random sampling and testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Each latex condom manufactured in the United States is tested electronically for holes before packaging. Rates of condom breakage during sexual intercourse and withdrawal are low in the United States (i.e., approximately two broken condoms per 100 condoms used). Condom failure usually results from inconsistent or incorrect use rather than condom breakage.

Male condoms made of materials other than latex are available in the United States. Although they have had higher breakage and slippage rates when compared with latex condoms, the pregnancy rates among women whose partners use these condoms are similar. Non-latex condoms (i.e., those made of polyurethane or other synthetic material) can be substituted for persons with latex allergy.

Patients should be advised that condoms must be used consistently and correctly to be highly effective in preventing STDs. Patients should be instructed in the correct use of condoms. The following recommendations ensure the proper use of male condoms.

  • Use a new condom with each act of sexual intercourse (e.g., oral, vaginal, and anal).
  • Carefully handle the condom to avoid damaging it with fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on after the penis is erect and before any genital contact with the partner.
  • Use only water-based lubricants (e.g., K-Y Jelly, Astroglide, AquaLube, and glycerin) with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants (e.g., petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) can weaken latex.
  • Ensure adequate lubrication during intercourse, possibly requiring the use of exogenous lubricants.
  • Hold the condom firmly against the base of the penis during withdrawal, and withdraw while the penis is still erect to prevent slippage.

Female Condoms

Laboratory studies indicate that the female condom (Reality), which consists of a lubricated polyurethane sheath with a ring on each end that is inserted into the vagina, is an effective mechanical barrier to viruses, including HIV (5). With the exception of one investigation of recurrent trichomoniasis, no clinical studies have been completed to evaluate the efficacy of female condoms in providing protection from STDs, including HIV. If used consistently and correctly, the female condom may substantially reduce the risk for STDs. When a male condom cannot be used properly, sex partners should consider using a female condom.


Vaginal Spermicides, Sponges, and Diaphragms

Recent evidence has indicated that vaginal spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9) are not effective in preventing cervical gonorrhea, chlamydia, or HIV infection (6). Thus, spermicides alone are not recommended for STD/HIV prevention. Frequent use of spermicides containing N-9 has been associated with genital lesions, which may be associated with an increased risk of HIV transmission. The vaginal contraceptive sponge appears to protect against cervical gonorrhea and chlamydia, but its use increases the risk for candidiasis. In case-control and cross-sectional studies, diaphragm use has been demonstrated to protect against cervical gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis; however, no cohort studies have been conducted (7). Neither vaginal sponges nor diaphragms should be relied on to protect women against HIV infection. The role of spermicides, sponges, and diaphragms for preventing transmission of HIV to men has not been evaluated. Diaphragm and spermicide use has been associated with an increased risk of bacterial urinary tract infection in women.

Condoms and N-9 Vaginal Spermicides

Condoms lubricated with spermicides are no more effective than other lubricated condoms in protecting against the transmission of HIV and other STDs. Distribution of previously purchased condoms lubricated with N-9 spermicide should continue provided the condoms have not passed their expiration date. However, purchase of any additional condoms lubricated with the spermicide N-9 is not recommended because spermicide-coated condoms cost more, have a shorter shelf-life than other lubricated condoms, and have been associated with urinary tract infection in young women.

Rectal Use of N-9 Spermicides

Recent data indicate that N-9 may increase the risk for HIV transmission during vaginal intercourse (6). Although similar studies have not been conducted among men who use N-9 spermicide during anal intercourse with other men, N-9 can damage the cells lining the rectum, thus providing a portal of entry for HIV and other sexually transmissible agents. Therefore, N-9 should not be used as a microbicide or lubricant during anal intercourse.

Nonbarrier Contraception, Surgical Sterilization, and Hysterectomy

Women who are not at risk for pregnancy might incorrectly perceive themselves to be at no risk for STDs, including HIV infection. Contraceptive methods that are not mechanical or chemical barriers offer no protection against HIV or other STDs. Women who use hormonal contraception (e.g., oral contraceptives, Norplant, and Depo-Provera), have intrauterine devices (IUDs), have been surgically sterilized, or have had hysterectomies should be counseled regarding the use of condoms and the risk for STDs, including HIV infection.

STD/HIV Prevention Counseling

Interactive counseling approaches directed at a patient's personal risk, the situations in which risk occurs, and use of goal-setting strategies are effective in STD prevention . One such approach --- "client-centered" HIV prevention counseling --- involves two sessions, each lasting 15--20 minutes, and has been recommended for STD clinic patients who receive HIV testing. In addition to prevention counseling, certain videos and large group presentations that provide explicit information about how to use condoms correctly have been effective in reducing the occurrence of additional STDs among persons at high risk, including STD clinic patients and adolescents. Results from randomized controlled trials demonstrate that compared with traditional approaches to providing information, certain brief risk reduction counseling approaches can reduce the occurrence of new sexually transmitted infections by 25%--40% among STD clinic patients (9).

Interactive counseling strategies can be effectively used by most health-care providers, regardless of educational background or demographic profile. High-quality counseling is best ensured when clinicians are provided basic training in prevention counseling methods and skills building approaches, periodic supervisor observation of counseling with immediate feedback to counselors, periodic counselor and/or patient satisfaction evaluations, and regularly scheduled meetings of counselors and supervisors to discuss difficult situations. Prevention counseling is believed to be more effective if provided in a non-judgmental manner appropriate to the patient's culture, language, sex, sexual orientation, age, and developmental level.

Partner Notification

Partner notification, once referred to as "contact tracing" but more recently included in the broader category of partner services, is the process of learning from persons with STDs about their sexual partners and helping to arrange for evaluation and treatment of those partners. Providers can furnish this service directly or with assistance from state and local health departments. The intensity of services and the specific conditions for which such services are offered by health agencies vary from area to area. Such services usually are accompanied by health counseling and may include referral of patients and their partners for other services.

Many persons benefit from partner notification; thus, providers should encourage their patients to make partners aware of potential STD risk and urge them to seek diagnosis and treatment, regardless of assistance from local health agencies. However, whether the process of partner notification effectively decreases exposure to STDs from a person's sexual environment or whether it changes the incidence and prevalence of disease is uncertain. The paucity of supporting evidence regarding the consequences of partner notification has spurred the exploration of alternative approaches. One such approach is to place partner notification in the larger context of the sexual and social networks in which people are exposed to STDs. The underlying hypotheses are that networks have an influence on disease transmission that is independent of personal behaviors, that network structure is related directly to prevalence and to underlying disease transmission dynamics, and that network approaches provide a more powerful tool for identifying exposed persons and other persons at risk. A second such approach for which supporting data are being collected is the use of patient delivered therapy for treatment of contacts and others at risk, a technique that can considerably expand the role of practitioners in the control of STDs. The combination of these approaches has the potential to provide both an intervention and its evaluative tool.

These approaches have not yet been sufficiently assessed to warrant definitive recommendations. However, practitioners and public health professionals should be aware of the current potential use of these nontraditional modalities in the prevention and control of STDs.

Reporting and Confidentiality

The accurate identification and timely reporting of STDs are integral components of successful disease control efforts. Timely reporting is important for assessing morbidity trends, targeting limited resources, and assisting local health authorities in identifying sex partners who may be infected. STD/HIV and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases should be reported in accordance with local statutory requirements.

Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and AIDS are reportable diseases in every state. HIV infection and chancroid are reportable in many states. The requirements for reporting other STDs differ by state, and clinicians should be familiar with local reporting requirements. Reporting can be provider- and/or laboratory-based. Clinicians who are unsure of local reporting requirements should seek advice from local health departments or state STD programs.

STD and HIV reports are kept strictly confidential. In most jurisdictions, such reports are protected by statute from subpoena. Before public health representatives conduct a follow-up of a positive STD-test result, they should consult the patient's health-care provider to verify the diagnosis and treatment.

Special Populations

Pregnant Women

Intrauterine or perinatally transmitted STDs can have severely debilitating effects on pregnant women, their partners, and their fetuses. All pregnant women and their sex partners should be asked about STDs, counseled about the possibility of perinatal infections, and ensured access to treatment, if needed.

Recommended Screening Tests

  • All pregnant women should be offered voluntary HIV testing at the first prenatal visit. Reasons for refusal of testing should be explored, and testing should be reoffered to pregnant women who initially declined testing. Retesting in the third trimester (preferably before 36 weeks' gestation) is recommended for women at high risk for acquiring HIV infection (i.e., women who use illicit drugs, have STDs during pregnancy, have multiple sex partners during pregnancy, or have HIV-infected partners). In addition, women who have not received prenatal counseling should be encouraged to be tested for HIV infection at delivery.
  • A serologic test for syphilis should be performed on all pregnant women at the first prenatal visit. In populations in which use of prenatal care is not optimal, rapid plasma reagin (RPR)-card test screening (and treatment, if that test is reactive) should be performed at the time a pregnancy is confirmed. Patients who are at high risk for syphilis, are living in areas of excess syphilis morbidity, are previously untested, or have positive serology in the first trimester should be screened again early in the third trimester (28 weeks' gestation) and at delivery. Some states require all women to be screened at delivery. Infants should not be discharged from the hospital unless the syphilis serologic status of the mother has been determined at least one time during pregnancy and preferably again at delivery. Any woman who delivers a stillborn infant should be tested for syphilis.
  • A serologic test for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) should be performed on all pregnant women at the first prenatal visit. HBsAg testing should be repeated late in pregnancy for women who are HBsAg negative but who are at high risk for HBV infection (e.g., injection-drug users and women who have concomitant STDs).
  • A test for Chlamydia trachomatis should be performed at the first prenatal visit. Women aged <25 years and those at increased risk for chlamydia (i.e., women who have a new or more than one sex partner) also should be tested during the third trimester to prevent maternal postnatal complications and chlamydial infection in the infant. Screening during the first trimester might enable prevention of adverse effects of chlamydia during pregnancy. However, evidence for preventing adverse effects during pregnancy is lacking. If screening is performed only during the first trimester, a longer period exists for acquiring infection before delivery.
  • A test for Neisseria gonorrhoeae should be performed at the first prenatal visit for women at risk or for women living in an area in which the prevalence of N. gonorrhoeae is high. A repeat test should be performed during the third trimester for those at continued risk.
  • A test for hepatitis C antibodies (anti-Hepatitis C Virus) should be performed at the first prenatal visit for pregnant women at high risk for exposure. Women at high risk include those with a history of injection-drug use, repeated exposure to blood products, prior blood transfusion, or organ transplants.
  • Evaluation for bacterial vaginosis (BV) may be conducted at the first prenatal visit for asymptomatic patients who are at high risk for preterm labor (e.g., those who have a history of a previous preterm delivery). Current evidence does not support routine testing for BV.
  • A Papanicolaou (Pap) smear should be obtained at the first prenatal visit if none has been documented during the preceding year.

Other Concerns

Other STD-related concerns are as follows.

  • HBsAg-positive women should be reported to the local and/or state health department to ensure that they are entered into a case-management system and that appropriate prophylaxis is provided for their infants. In addition, household and sex contacts of HBsAg-positive women should be vaccinated.
  • No treatment is available for anti-Hepatitis C Virus-positive pregnant women. However, all women found to be anti-Hepatitis C Virus-positive should receive appropriate counseling . No vaccine is available to prevent Hepatitis C Virus transmission.
  • In the absence of lesions during the third trimester, routine serial cultures for HSV are not indicated for women who have a history of recurrent genital herpes. Prophylactic cesarean section is not indicated for women who do not have active genital lesions at the time of delivery.
  • The presence of genital warts is not an indication for cesarean section.
  • Not enough evidence exists to recommend routine screening for Trichomonas vaginalis in asymptomatic pregnant women.

For a more detailed discussion of these guidelines, as well as infections not transmitted sexually, refer to the following references: Guide to Clinical Preventive Services (10), Guidelines for Perinatal Care (11), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Educational Bulletin: Antimicrobial Therapy for Obstetric Patients (12), ACOG Committee Opinion: Primary and Preventive Care: Periodic Assessments (13), Recommendations for the Prevention and Management of Chlamydia trachomatis Infections , Hepatitis B Virus: A Comprehensive Strategy for Eliminating Transmission in the United States through Universal Childhood Vaccination --- Recommendations of the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee (ACIP) , Mother-to-infant transmission of hepatitis C virus (15), Hepatitis C: Screening in pregnancy (16), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Educational Bulletin: Viral hepatitis in pregnancy (17), Human Immunodeficiency Virus Screening: Joint statement of the AAP and ACOG (18), Preventing Perinatal Transmission of HIV (19), and the Revised Public Health Service Recommendations for HIV Screening of Pregnant Women

These sources are not entirely consistent in their recommendations