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June 06, 2024

To combat the spike in syphilis, the CDC now recommends using a common antibiotic as a 'morning after' drug

The new guidelines are specific to certain people who are at higher risk of STDs. The Philadelphia health department says is alerting providers to the new recommendations.

Prevention Syphilis
CDC doxy Pep syphilis Andrew Jansen/News-Leader/USA Today Network

The CDC now recommends certain people at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases take doxy PEP – a common antibiotic – within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. The new guidance is aimed at preventing the spread of STDs. Above, a syphilis test is conducted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending some people use of a common antibiotic as a "morning-after" pill to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases – a recommendation Philadelphia health officials support.

New clinical guidelines issued Thursday recommend that health care providers counsel certain patients to take doxycycline postexposure prophylaxis, also known as doxy PEP, within 72 hours after oral, vaginal or anal sex without protection. The guideline is specific to gay and bisexual men and transgender women who have had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year, who are "at increased risk for these infections," according to the CDC.

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Research suggests doxy PEP is effective among those groups, but health officials said there is not enough evidence to recommend its use among other people. 

Philadelphia's Department of Public Health has promoted the use of doxy PEP in the past and is issuing an alert to local clinicians about the CDC's new recommendation, a city spokesperson said Thursday.

More than 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in the U.S. in 2022, with syphilis cases spiking 80% between 2018 and 2022, according to the most recent CDC data.

"We must act now to mobilize and execute a whole-of-nation approach if we hope to turn the tide," the CDC wrote when it released the numbers in January.

The prescription of doxy PEP should be part of a "comprehensive sexual health approach" that includes risk reduction counseling, S.T.I. screening and treatment, recommended vaccination and linkage to HIV PrEP, HIV care or other services, according to the CDC.

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