CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha-Charleston HIV Task Force met Tuesday for its monthly meeting, one week into the Epi-Aid response by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the county.
Shannon McBee, an Epidemiologist with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) updated the room inside the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department (KCHD) and a handful of health officials via Zoom on the HIV outbreak in the county associated with injected drug use and what the Epi-Aid is.
She said there are three teams from the CDC working in the county to address objectives in the investigation into the public health problem. McBee defined Epi-Aid as rapid, short-term, onsite, technical assistance by Epidemic Intelligence Service officers and other CDC subject matter experts.
The focus is to assist partners in making rapid, practical decisions for actions to prevent and control the public health problem, which in the county’s case is HIV.
The objectives of epi-aid stated by McBee are threefold:
1. Conduct a rapid assessment with persons who inject drugs (PWID) and key stakeholders to identify factors facilitating HIV transmission and barriers to accessing essential care and prevention services for PWID. 2. Review, abstract, and analyze data from medical records and other relevant sources (e.g., community service providers, first responders, substance use disorder treatment) to understand engagement with various services. 3. Review and analyze partner services procedures and data from partner services interviews and HIV testing activities to better understand behaviors, networks, and geography of PWID.
“It is looking at the behaviors of the population that is most at-risk, trying to determine where the gaps are in services, what barriers they have to get those services,” McBee said.
She added that departments are trying to understand attitudes and beliefs surrounding HIV and understand where a patient is at. She said it’s been a difficult population to reach.
“HIV outbreaks are extremely complicated and difficult especially when you’re dealing with a population who is addicted to drugs. Coming off a pandemic, we have our work cut out for us,” McBee said.
Since January 1, 2019, there have been 66 newly diagnosed cases of HIV associated with injection drug use have been reported in Kanawha County, according to the DHHR.
Out of those cases, 53% are male, 85% are between ages of 20 and 40, 62% of cases are between 30 39 years old, 23% of cases are between 20 29 years old, 59% of cases were diagnosed in a hospital setting, 46% linked to care within 30 days of diagnosis, 22% received care within the last 90 days, 23% have no evidence of care, 35% were virally suppressed at last test, and 85% are co-infected with hepatitis C. VIEW: Tuesday presentation by state DHHR update on the HIV outbreak in Kanawha County
During the previous meeting in May, Dr. Sherri Young with the KCHD stated there were already 13 cases of HIV reported in the county in 2021. McBee said on Tuesday that the pandemic has not helped the fight.
“A lot of services were closed during the pandemic, there was a lot of fear circulating, people weren’t able to access services, they were isolated in their homes. People also had access to additional funds that may have fueled their addictions through stimulus checks,” she said.
The CDC will be in town until June 25 and at that time, McBee said officials will meet with state and local leaders to do preliminary recommendations. All data collected during the investigation is retained and controlled by the requesting public health authority, the DHHR said.
A confirmatory report will be released in July.
“That will help direct state and local activities to further respond to the HIV outbreak. It’ll other allow us to identify additional resources that the state might request on behalf of the county,” McBee said.
The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for July 13, which may include those reports.