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With More HIV Cases Reported, NKY Health Department Expands Testing Opportunities

Since the announcement last month of an HIV cluster in Kenton and Campbell Counties, the Northern Kentucky Health Department confirms more cases.

In a special news conference in January, health officials said there were 37 HIV cases reported in the two counties with at least 18 possibly connected to intravenous drug use. Now, the number is 43 cases with 20 reporting injection drug use as a risk factor of HIV infection.

The health department and the Kentucky Department for Public Health are jointly investigating the cluster, conducting in-depth interviews with those infected, and genetic testing of blood samples is underway to determine of those infected in Northern Kentucky have the same strain.

The health department is also expanding opportunities for HIV and hepatitis C testing with outreach efforts targeting individuals who inject drugs. Since January 1, 167 people have tested for HIV in the region.

Walk-in HIV testing is now available at seven Northern Kentucky locations, including NKY Health’s four county health centers, which also offer testing for hepatitis C and syphilis.

Anyone interested in details about HIV testing events can do the following:

“HIV is often passed on by people who don’t know their status,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. “Individuals who are tested and diagnosed with HIV can be quickly connected to medical care and other resources, allowing them to manage their HIV infection and reduce the likelihood of sharing the virus with others.”

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that only 42 percent of people who inject drugs are getting tested for HIV at least once per year, as recommended. The health department is partnering with the Northern Kentucky Medical Society and St. Elizabeth Healthcare to educate providers in Northern Kentucky about HIV testing guidelines for individuals at risk and increase awareness of resources for those infected with HIV, including NKY Health’s HIV Case Management program.

In addition to getting tested for HIV, individuals who are at-risk can take other steps to prevent transmission of the virus, such as:

  • Practicing safe sex. This can include abstinence (not having sex), limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms correctly. Free condoms are available from NKY Health’s county health centers.
  • If you are injecting drugs, never share needles. Utilize local syringe access exchange programs (currently in operation in Grant County, along with Hamilton County and Pendleton County) to access sterile, unused injection equipment.
  •  Some individuals who are at risk may benefit from HIV prevention medicines, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and should check with their health care provider.
  • Individuals who are at-risk should also be tested and treated for any other infections they may have—including hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections.
  •  When ready, access a local addiction treatment. The Northern Kentucky Addiction Helpline offers referrals 24 hours a day at 859.415.9280.

For more information on the HIV cluster investigation and response in Northern Kentucky, visit nkyhealth.org/hiv-investigation/

-Staff report

Image via Wiki Commons