How One County Ended Up With A “HIV Cluster”

IMAGE: Tony Webster, CC BY 2.0

53 new HIV cases in a single county reflect nation’s Third-World health conditions 

June 23, 2019

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia health officials say the number of HIV cases in Cabell County has risen to 53.

The Herald-Dispatch reports the total increased by four cases in the past four weeks and nine cases in the past nine weeks.

The cluster has spread primarily among intravenous drug users.

The cluster, tracked since January 2018, represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over five years. Cabell County’s is currently the only active HIV cluster in West Virginia.

The situation is still defined as a cluster rather than a full outbreak. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health characterizes a cluster as being confined to a certain population- in this case, IV drug users – where it may be able to be controlled with minimal risk to the general public. Source. 

Earlier … 

May 27, 2019

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A cluster of HIV cases in Cabell County reflects a shift in how the disease is being transmitted, West Virginia health officials say.

The Herald-Dispatch reports Cabell County’s cluster — the only one currently known in West Virginia — is up to 49 confirmed cases, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

All the cases were contracted by intravenous drug use through sharing of contaminated syringes.

The cluster, tracked since January 2018, represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over the past five years.

In 2017, West Virginia had one of the nation’s lowest rates of HIV diagnoses (4.3 cases per 100,000 residents), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neighboring Kentucky (7.9 per 100,000) fared similarly.

The HIV cases could potentially be devastating for Appalachian communities already ravaged by opioid addiction.

The rise in HIV cases is particularly troubling considering Cabell County has an estimated 1,800 active IV drug users, creating an ample at-risk population for the virus to spread.

HIV is difficult to track and impossible to predict, but introducing the virus in the region’s drug-using population is an obvious cause for concern for state health officials.

“We expect the case count to increase just because we know there’s people out there that have not yet been tested,” said Shannon McBee, senior epidemiologist at DHHR, in a joint interview alongside Dr. Cathy Slemp, State Health Officer, at the state office in Charleston.

“Until we can get a handle on how many people have been tested in Cabell County, it’s likely we’ll continue to see cases,” McBee said … Read more. 

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