I recently received updated HIV epidemiology (the study of the distribution of disease in a population) from my public health partners at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. The good news is the county’s HIV infection rate in 2016 was down, albeit modestly, for the fourth consecutive year, to 194 new diagnoses.
Almost 1,000 new HIV infections were diagnosed in the state in 2016, a number that has remained fairly consistent in recent years
However, almost 1,000 new HIV infections were diagnosed in the state in 2016, an increase from 2015, although the state rates are relatively unchanged in recent years. This is roughly the same number of people who were diagnosed in 1997, the year after anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for HIV treatment was first used successfully. At about this time, the prevalence of HIV, the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Ohio – begins to increase annually – because individuals with HIV were finally living. Compared to the 8,000+ Ohioans living with HIV in 1997, we now have roughly 23,000 Ohioans living with HIV.
A lot of HIV prevention is happening or our new infection rate would be much higher. Yet this number of new infections is not acceptable
A lot of HIV prevention is happening or our new infection rate would be much higher. Yet this number of new infections is not acceptable. HIV is preventable. Even individuals who are sexually active (this is a large number) or inject drugs (this is a smaller but growing number) can prevent infection. And we have prevention tools now that we didn’t have in 1997. Condoms/lube and using clean needles for injection drug use are all still effective; as are changing sexual and drug use practices to reduce risk of exposure.
There is also now a pill that when taken daily can prevent HIV. It’s known as PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis – think birth control pill for HIV – and the medication is very effective at preventing HIV if an individual is exposed to the virus (find a doctor who sees patients for PrEP at here). Most health insurance plans cover PrEP and if there are coverage gaps the state will soon have an assistance program to help patients afford the medicine.
Knowing if your partner has HIV – and if they are on treatment – is also an incredibly effective way to prevent infection because people diagnosed with HIV who are taking anti-HIV medication cannot transmit the virus.
Knowing if your partner has HIV – and if they are on treatment – is also an incredibly effective way to prevent infection because people diagnosed with HIV who are taking anti-HIV medication cannot transmit the virus. Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, coupled with our Ryan White health insurance program, means that no one in Ohio should go without HIV medication for financial reasons.
We also have post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) – think Plan B for HIV – which is more than 80% effective at preventing infection if started within 72 hours of suspected HIV exposure. PEP is now becoming routinely available for sexual assault survivors in emergency departments.
Young people have been particularly impacted in recent years in Ohio. In Cuyahoga County, 37% of new infections are among residents under 24 years old. Ohio is one of the only states without health education standards that would protect our young people — ensuring young people have the above information and access to health services is crucial. We will have more on this in a future blog.