HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ/AP) -- UPDATE 7/1/19 @ 9:45 p.m.
A death has been linked to the HIV cluster in Cabell County, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department said Monday.
"We are not releasing any identifiable information, simply confirming the death," a health department spokeswoman said.
Late last month, health officials say the number of HIV cases in Cabell County had risen to 53. They also said the cluster had spread mainly among intravenous drug users and is not a threat to the general public.
Tracked since January 2018, the cluster represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over five years. Cabell County's is currently the only active HIV cluster in West Virginia.
UPDATE 6/22/19 @ 3:15 p.m.
West Virginia health officials say the number of HIV cases in Cabell County has risen to 53.
The Herald-Dispatch reports the total increased by four cases in the past four weeks and nine cases in the past nine weeks.
The cluster has spread primarily among intravenous drug users.
The cluster, tracked since January 2018, represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over five years. Cabell County's is currently the only active HIV cluster in West Virginia.
The situation is still defined as a cluster rather than a full outbreak. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health characterizes a cluster as being confined to a certain population- in this case, IV drug users - where it may be able to be controlled with minimal risk to the general public.
UPDATE 5/27/19 @ 10:30 p.m.
West Virginia health officials say an HIV cluster in Cabell County reflects a shift in how the disease is being transmitted.
According to Cabell County Health Department officials, the county's cluster -- the only one currently known in West Virginia -- is up to 49 confirmed cases.
State officials say all the cases were contracted by intravenous drug use through sharing of contaminated syringes.
The cluster, tracked since January 2018, represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over the past five years.
In 2017, West Virginia had one of the nation's lowest rates of HIV diagnoses (4.3 cases per 100,000 residents), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky (7.9 per 100,000) fared similarly.
The HIV cluster could potentially be devastating for communities ravaged by opioid addiction.
UPDATE 4/30/19 @ 6:30 p.m.
HIV cases are still climbing in Cabell County.
In March, there were 28 cases. As of April 22, that number had gone up to 44 cases.
"Right now we are still identifying new cases, so our case count is going up," said Dr. Michael Kilenny, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
The cases are considered to just be a cluster and not an outbreak since it is confined to a certain group of people.
A majority of the cases have been confirmed in injection drug users.
To help try to keep cases from spreading, health officials are urging anyone who is at risk to get anti-viral medications. The Cabell-Huntington Health Department is working to prescribe those to people at risk, not people who have already been diagnosed.
"We are working really closely with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and the CDC to put strong effective control measures on this cluster and we can hopefully not only stop it from spreading in the community at risk, but ease any fears of the general public," Kilkenny said.
Right now, the cluster confirmed in Cabell County is the only one confirmed in the state. However, state health officials are urging providers across the state to increase HIV testing.
According to the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, sexual contact was the main risk factor for contracting HIV before 2018. However, that year the main risk factor shifted to injection drug use.
Health officials say they will likely see more cases of HIV confirmed until their intervention efforts begin to take effect.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department offers a needle-exchange program, called the harm reduction program. It offers users clean needles and health officials say it helps to prevent the spread of different diseases. Officials say needle sharing among drug users has been a big contributing factor to the spread of HIV.
"This is coming from sharing syringes and that's another issue," Dr. Kilkenny said. "The availability of sterile syringes for people injecting drugs is more important than ever."
There are an estimated 1,800 injection drug users in Cabell County.
Officials say the goal now is to quickly link those who have been affected with the virus with care, and to get those who are most at risk anti-viral medications.
ORIGINAL STORY 3/5/19
West Virginia heath officials say an active HIV cluster has been confirmed in Cabell County.
A statement from the West Virginia Department of Public Health says there are 28 known cases, primarily among intravenous drug users.
Officials told The Herald-Dispatch the cluster represents a sharp increase from the baseline average of eight cases annually over the past five years.
Cabell-Huntington Health Department physician director Michael Kilkenny says it is the first notable HIV cluster in West Virginia where intravenous drug use is identified as the main risk factor.
Although the cases are confined, Kilkenny says officials estimate that Cabell County has more than 1,800 active IV drug users, so introducing HIV into that population is very concerning.