CDC: Urgent action needed in West Virginia HIV outbreak

CHARLESTON, WV (AP)- An HIV outbreak spreading in a West Virginia county is “the most concerning in the United States” and urgent action is needed, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control.

The comments came as part of a presentation that CDC representatives gave Thursday to Kanawha County’s HIV task force, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. The presentation came amid a Charleston City Council debate on the merits of a needs-based syringe service program.

The CDC recommended the syringe program as necessary to fight the spread of diseases linked to intravenous drug use.

The number of HIV cases tied to drug use in Kanawha has been increasing since 2018, when there were two. In 2019, there were 15 and at least 35 were reported last year, according to Shannon McBee, the top epidemiologist with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. In comparison, New York City recorded 36 HIV cases tied to intravenous drug use in 2019, according to the CDC.

Officials need to act quickly to slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis, said Demetre Daskalakis, head of the CDC’s HIV/AIDS prevention program. A syringe service program could help, but there’s also a need for community education, he said.

There needs to be widespread community buy-in for progress to be made, McBee said.

“During these unprecedented times we are all facing, it’s going to take all stakeholders at the table for a whole community approach (to address HIV),” McBee said.