HIV tests are rare in the medical setting among WVa drug users
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Emergency departments and hospital medical staff have rarely performed HIV tests on intravenous drug users in a West Virginia county with one of the peaks the highest in the country in such cases, according to a federal survey released Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented the preliminary findings at a meeting of state and local health officials, the Department of Health and Human Resources said in a press release.
The CDC survey, based in part on interviews, field visits and observations, was conducted to assess the behaviors and attitudes of people who inject drugs as well as community actors. The survey also examined access to and barriers to services and analyzed procedures for tracing HIV contacts and other data.
He found that those most at risk of contracting HIV were not tested regularly and that there was poor access to sterile syringes and injection equipment. The statement also indicated that there were difficulties in accessing and navigating both treatment for substance use disorders and HIV prevention services and treatment.
Despite the lack of testing in emergency situations and hospitals cited by the CDC, a newly formed partnership led by the DHHR’s Office of Public Health has tested more than 400 people at risk for HIV. As a result, nearly a quarter of the positive cases associated with the epidemic have been found and referred to care and prevention services, the statement said.
“We believe that a holistic approach to the community and the healthcare model is the best way to tackle any infectious disease outbreak,” said Dr Ayne Amjad, state health officer.
Amjad said the office will provide full recommendations based on the CDC’s findings when they are available in August and work to resolve them.
In April, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a bill to introduce stricter requirements for needle exchange programs that opponents say would make it harder to get clean needles amid the surge in HIV cases.
The new rules went into effect amid one of the country’s highest peaks s in cases of HIV related to intravenous drug use. The increase, mostly concentrated around the capital Charleston and the town of Huntington, is attributed at least in part to the cancellation in 2018 of a needle exchange program in Kanawha County.
As of 2014, only 12.5% of HIV cases in West Virginia were due to intravenous drug use. In 2019, 64.2% were, according to data from the state health department.
Kanawha County, which includes Charleston and has a population of 178,000, had two cases of intravenous drug-related HIV in 2018. The number rose to 15 in 2019 and 39 last year, according to data from the ‘State. There have been 14 such cases so far in 2021.
Needle exchange programs are included in the CDC’s recommendations for controlling epidemics among intravenous drug users. Such programs exist in dozens of states, but they’re not without critics, including in West Virginia, who say they’re not doing enough to prevent or stop drug abuse.