Hennepin County in the US is struggling with a new HIV outbreak that has been triggered by the COVID19 pandemic and the constant synthetic opioid crisis. The latest data from the county have shown that around 54 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the past two years. Usually, on average less than three people are diagnosed with HIV in a normal year. The county officials have said that people who are homeless and residing in encampments are most affected by the outbreak. The officials have said that these people take opioid injections and transmit HIV through sexual contact. As per the report, Ramsey and St. Louis counties as well have reported quite high numbers of HIV outbreaks. Both counties have reported 15 cases of HIV each.
Hennepin County officials have been actively addressing the matter after the State Health Department has identified the outbreak for the first time in 2018. They have taken some strict preventive measures such as exchanging syringes, on-site testing, and awareness programs. However, the outbreaks have been hard to contain for health officials. The manager for clinical services at Hennepin country’s public health department, Stephanie Abel has said that the county has a complex population. He has said that if a person is diagnosed with HIV, he or she has mental issues and a lack of housing as well. These people have substance abuse issues as well.
Experts have said that Hennepin County’s HIV outbreak is a huge matter of concern considering the number of HIV cases in other parts of the country. Kanawha County in West Virginia that includes Charleston as well has reported around 35 cases of HIV in 2020. With a population of 8 million people, New York City, has reported 36 cases of HIV that have been linked to intravenous substance use in 2019. Senior epidemiologist for the HIV section at the State Health Department, Allison LaPointe has said that whenever experts witness high numbers of HIV cases than what has been perceived, it becomes a huge matter of concern. She has said that the current outbreak has not been compared with the levels of new cases of HIV that have come up in the early years of the HIV pandemic. It is one of the largest outbreaks since the yearly number of new cases has subsided in the last 20 years. Experts have said that HIV is the virus that directly attacks the immune system.
They have said that people who have contracted the virus, need to be treated timely, else, it can result in AIDS. AIDS restricts the body’s ability to fight against viruses and different types of infections. Experts have not been able to discover a cure for HIV yet. However, it can be managed with strict obedience to antiretroviral therapy. Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have reported eight cases of HIV so far this year. As per the state guidelines, each confirmed case of HIV needs to be reported at the State Health Department including demographic details. After that, a disease intervention expert from the state or local public health will conduct a full interview with the diagnosed person and will ask about his or her risk factors and contacts. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well is helping the state with the data analysis that identifies outbreaks.
St. Louis County has reported an HIV outbreak in February 2021. However, the state has been assisting local health providers for months before the outbreak has surfaced. The county has also seen an increase in the number of syphilis cases. Hennepin and Ramsey counties have witnessed an outbreak of 16 HIV cases in December 2018. However, the number of cases in both counties has shot up to 68 last month. As more cases of HIV have started coming up in these counties, the officials have found a population pattern of homeless people who are into intravenous drug use living in encampments. Hennepin County is one of the 52 jurisdictions of the country that is funded by the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. This program offers many services to people from economically weaker sections, who are diagnosed with the dreaded disease. The county receives around a $6 million grant each year that helps the officials to work with 17 diverse firms and HIV care clinics at Hennepin healthcare. The county has been given around $80000 grant by Minneapolis to provide housing to people who are homeless and living with HIV. The county has bought hotels to provide houses to homeless people who are HIV positive to protect them from COVID19.
The manager of Hennepin County’s Ryan White Program, Jonathan Hanft has said that it has helped outreach workers in testing other people who might be at risk of HIV. Before this outbreak, the officials have come up with an HIV and Drug Harm Prevention Program. Under this program, more than 100000 syringes are available free of cost in exchange for used syringes. The program offers free medicines to people who might be at risk of catching the virus. It provides targeted outreach and free testing to homeless people. Before the COVID19 pandemic, around 50000 syringes have been rolled out under this program. COVID19 and HIV have put exceptional pressure on the healthcare system of the county. However, the officials have been putting their best foot forward to protect vulnerable people. People of color, who are at a higher risk of drug abuse, have been the prime priority of this program. Many outreach workers have said that drug and alcohol programs need more funding to address the issue. Health experts have said that the HIV outbreak will be a priority public health issue in Minnesota with the record number of fentanyl overdose cases and deaths last year. They have advised that mobile medicine programs, low batteries to care, and culturally specific therapy services are good initiatives to contain the spread of HIV .