CDC releases final Kanawha County HIV outbreak findings

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Health officials in Kanawha County say the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given its final recommendations regarding the HIV outbreak in Kanawha County.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the CDC presented those findings today. In February, the CDC called the county’s outbreak the “most concerning” outbreak in the nation. Data showed Kanawha County had one fewer HIV case in 2020 than New York City, which has a population 150 times larger than Kanawha County’s, did in 2019.

Then in April, the Kanawha County Commission began asking the state’s congressional delegate to call on the CDC to answers from the CDC to launch its own investigation to help figure out where the HIV outbreak is coming from. CDC officials came to the county later that month to assist local health officials.

The preliminary results of the investigation were released in June to determine why the outbreak was happening. The most recent recommendations were formed through qualitative interview findings meant to provide further insight into healthcare and service gaps and barriers people who inject drugs have experienced, as found by the preliminary results.

“The Bureau for Public Health is committed to assisting the community in keeping infection rates as low as possible,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “The state will continue to work with its partners to implement innovative approaches to delivery of prevention and care for people who inject drugs. Once again, we express our gratitude to the CDC Epi Aid team, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and many others for their work, especially throughout the last month.”

The recommendations focus on those findings and the service and healthcare gaps. The CDC says the response activities “should be approached with urgency,” according to the WV DHHR.

According to the CDC, the county should:

  • Work to expand and improve access to sterile syringes, testing and treatment
    • The CDC says this includes meeting with people who inject drugs where they are to reduce barriers that prevent them from participating in harm reduction services as well as bringing services to them through mobile and street outreach as well as one-stop-shop models of harm reduction services.
    • Health officials will also need to make HIV and hepatitis C with opt-out screening in healthcare as well as other settings people who inject drugs can get care.
    • They should also co-locate services for people who inject drugs to facilitate seamless transitions for support, care and treatment for HIV, hepatitis C, substance use and mental health services.
  • Involve the community in efforts to address the outbreak.
  • This includeds increasing engagement and sharing of information that facilitates community discussion with key stakeholders and engagement with people who inject drugs.
  • To understand the extent of injection drug use in Kanawha County, health officials should continue to conduct additional data analysis. This will also help prioritize outreach in other West Virginia counties to improve testing, prevention and care services that are at greater risks for outbreaks.

“Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, with its partners, is aggressively pursuing HIV testing and referral,” said Dr. Sherri Young, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Charleston Area Medical Center for the West Virginia Health Network and former Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Health Officer and CEO. “We appreciate the CDC recognizing our efforts and providing these recommendations.”

The WV DHHR says additional CDC recommendations include expansion and improvement of harm reduction efforts as well as care coordination and outlining actions various organizations can take to help with prevention and reduction efforts.

According to the WV DHHR, Bureau for Public Health officials have continued their response to the outbreak, including creating the Kanawha Valley HIV Testing Outreach Group, and providing counseling and testing training to partners such as social service providers and Quick Response Teams.

The complete findings and recommendations are available online as well as a slide deck of the CDC’s Preliminary Findings and Recommendations. The WV DHHR has more information on HIV in West Virginia, on its website.

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