While Highland County has not seen a significant increase in new HIV cases this year, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner says local public health agencies in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton County are seeing an increase, leading his department to begin dialogue with local health care providers on how to prevent an outbreak here.
While HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact, public health officials in Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky are attributing the spike in HIV cases to injection drug use, according to Warner.
Warner told Highland County Commissioners on Wednesday that Highland County typically averages anywhere from “zero cases to perhaps four in a given year.”
In a written statement, the health commissioner said due to Highland County’s proximity to Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, his department has been encouraging local health care providers to discuss drug use with patients and offer HIV testing to those with a history of intravenous drug use. In his statement, Warner said individuals in the community who have previously or are currently using injection drugs are encouraged to be tested for HIV, hepatitis C and infection.
Warner told commissioners that the Highland County Community Action Organization has a contract to provide free HIV and hep C tests.
“If anybody has any questions about testing, they can give us a call and we’ll steer them in the right direction,” he said Wednesday.
In a public health alert issued Oct. 23, Hamilton County Public Health and the Northern Kentucky Health Department announced that the total number of HIV cases has increased, as well as the proportion of cases in people who use intravenous drugs.
“In previous years, our region has experienced sexual transmission as the most frequently identified risk factor among individuals diagnosed with HIV infection,” the alert said. “However, with the continuing increase of newly diagnosed cases among PWID (persons who inject drugs), health care providers should consider this important shift in the predominant mode of HIV transmission in our region when providing clinical care.”
Warner said in Northern Kentucky, injection drug use is associated with 24 of the 35 new HIV infections this year.
The Ohio Department of Health issued a similar alert recently, saying the proportion of HIV cases reporting injection drug use as the mode of transmission increased from 7 percent of cases in 2015 to 13 percent in 2017, and preliminary 2018 data “demonstrates this trend is continuing” around the state.
“There is cause for concern due to the current opioid epidemic, unrecognized drug use in individuals, the rate of hepatitis C virus infections, unsafe needle-sharing practices, and the introduction of fentanyl (both pharmaceutical and illicit synthetic) into the local drug supply,” the alert said.
The alert added that people who use injection drugs may not be aware of the increased risk of contracting HIV through sharing needles.
Warner said locals can contact the health department if they have questions. The Highland County Health Department can be reached at 937-393-1941, or by email at [email protected]
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.