CDC assisting Kanawha County with HIV outbreak

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — In the last quarter of this year, Kanawha County has seen an additional 11 new HIV-positive cases, bringing the total to 60.

The Kanawha County HIV Task Force expects that number to continue to climb, as they test more people.

The CDC recently said Kanawha County had the “most concerning” HIV outbreak in the country.

Staff from the CDC are now in Kanawha County providing some additional boots on the ground helping the DHHR locate HIV-positive people who are unlocatable.

“They are literally at the job so much that we don’t frequently see them, they’re usually out trying to connect to individuals,” said Kanawha-Charleston Health Officer Dr. Sherri Young.

Health experts, social workers, and community leaders at Monday’s task force meeting say it’s hard enough getting people tested. It’s equally hard enough getting someone on treatment and on consistent medication.

“While taking one pill a day seems like an easy thing for the average person, we’re talking about people who are battling a lot of other issues,” said Young.

Mental health, homelessness, poverty and addiction are all common barriers.

The task force discussed sending out a mental health specialist to tent cities and other HIV community testing events.

They also pointed out how there is now an HIV testing person in the emergency room at CAMC General Hospital, and how they would like to provide lockers for safe storage of people’s HIV medication, which oftentimes gets lost or stolen.

“A 30 day supply of medication is about $3,000 and so it’s not an insignificant investment and that’s just for one person,” said Christine Teague with the CAMC Ryan White Program.

That’s why they say it’s important to reach people before they get acutely ill.

“We’re not telling people to test every three months like we used to, we’re telling them to test every month if they’re high-risk because we know people who have actively shared with people who have HIV and are still testing negative right now,” said Cassie Province with The Covenant House.

Without fixing the problem of addiction or getting to the people, they can’t reduce the outbreak.

The CDC also has epidemiologic assistance, or “epi-aid.”

For now, the county says they have a robust testing plan in place and it will be up to the state to request any additional aid from the CDC.

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