Charleston, Washington – On Monday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin submitted a congressional investigation into the HIV outbreak in West Virginia’s largest county to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the county’s outbreak is “the most worrying in the United States.” Two months later, the Democrats of West Virginia requested an investigation on behalf of the Kanawaha County Commission.
Committee Chairman Kent Kaper said in a statement that the epidemic “is an important public health issue that deserves our full understanding.”
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In a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Manchin asked the CDC to review the concerns of the committee and respond by Friday.
Late on Monday, Manchin released a letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying it was eager to meet with public health officials. It said that Dr. Jonathan Murmin, director of the National HIV/AIDS Center of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will attend the meeting.
In early February, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, head of HIV prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gave a speech at the Kanawha County HIV Working Group meeting.
Daskalakis said: “The current number of cases may represent the tip of the iceberg.” “There may be more undiagnosed cases in the community. We are worried that the spread will continue and unless urgent action is taken, people living with HIV The number of people will continue to increase.”
The committee’s letter to Manchin asked whether the CDC had conducted a formal investigation into the county’s HIV surge. The letter said that the European Commission is concerned that the statement that the epidemic is the most worrying in the country “was made without facts and empirical evidence.”
As of 2014, only 12.5% of HIV cases in West Virginia were the result of intravenous drug use. According to data from the state health department, by 2019, this proportion was 64.2%. The increase was mainly due to clusters in Kanawha and Cabell counties.
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Kanawha County in Charleston, which includes Charleston, has 178,000 residents. Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist in the state, said that in 2018, there were two cases of intravenous drug-related HIV. This number increased to 15 cases in 2019, and at least 35 cases were added last year.
In contrast, according to the CDC, New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, recorded 36 HIV cases related to injecting drug use in 2019. Daskalakis said that in other states, counties with populations similar to Kanawaha have fewer than one case of HIV diagnosed among people who inject drugs.
The surge is mainly concentrated in the capital of Charleston and near the city of Huntington, at least in part due to the cancellation of the needle replacement program in 2018, which provides clean syringes for injecting drug users who cannot completely quit the habit.
The CDC’s recommendations include a needle exchange program to control disease outbreaks among injecting drug users. Such programs exist in dozens of states, but they are not without their critics, including in West Virginia, who say they are not doing enough to prevent or stop drug abuse.
With less than a week left in the regular meeting, the state assembly is considering a bill to regulate needle exchange providers.
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The non-profit organization “Solution-Oriented Addiction Response” provided Charleston drug users with clean needles and shared information about HIV testing with residents including the homeless. SOAR co-founder Sarah Stone (Sarah Stone) said that this legislation may shut down his organization’s needle replacement program.
Citing pending state bills, the Charleston City Council postponed a vote on the proposed needle exchange regulations until April 19 on Monday evening.