The CDC has named 220 counties that are at-risk for an HIV outbreak, 28 of those countries are in West Virginia.
That’s why a doctor with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department testified before Congress about a proposed bill to fight disease spread by drug use, and talk about the ways local health departments are working to prevent an outbreak.
The CDC says Hepatitis C infections went up 133% from 2004 to 2014, in part because of the drug epidemic and sharing dirty needles. So local health departments have introduced programs to tackle the problem and they could get more funding under a new federal law.
When drug users share needles and spread infectious diseases, it doesn’t just affect the people who shoot up.
“One person that is out walking among society, that is a user that’s functioning fine, sitting in a cubicle beside you. And your daughter, or somebody, decides to go on a date with them and has a sexual encounter- while it’s not as commonly transmitted that way. They suddenly have a disease that’s connected with a user,” Dr. Angie Settle, CEO of West Virginia Health Right, explained.
In a state with a rampant drug epidemic, health officials are worried Charleston could be the next city to have an outbreak.
“We don’t want to become know as that city where there was a HIV outbreak or that city where there was a hepatitis C outbreak. So we’re working to reduce that harm,” Kanawha-Charleston Health Department spokesman John Law told 13 News.
They say harm reduction programs are stopping the spread of diseases through needle exchanges, HIV/Hepatitis testing and referrals to treatment.
“In my county we’ve been able to reduce new rates of new Hepatitis C cases by 60% using harm reduction strategies and training from the CDC,” Dr. Michael Kilkenny said. Dr. Kilkenny is the Physician Director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
Dr. Kilkenny testified before Congress to express his support for a new bill to give the CDC $40-million to track diseases and work with health departments to prevent an outbreak before it happens.
“The risk is there. It’s really a powder keg and it’s really important we stay on top of it, in terms of surveillance and testing and getting people in care and on treatment,” Dr. Christine Teague, Program Director of the Ryan White Foundation said.
The other concern is cost, it takes about $400,000 to treat one HIV case and $20-70,000 to treat and cure a Hep C case. If a serious outbreak happened in West Virginia, health officials warn it could bankrupt the state.