Kanawha HIV Task Force meets as testing events ramp up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department (KCHD) is expanding HIV testing in the area, health officials on the Kanawha-Charleston HIV Task Force met Monday to discuss efforts and what else they need to be doing to slow the outbreak.

The meeting, held at KCHD, was the first one since the Centers for Disease Control called the HIV outbreak in the area due to people injecting drugs “the most concerning” in the United States.

Dr. Sherri Young, the health officer and executive director of the KCHD reported to the room of a couple dozen people in person and on Zoom that the county has recorded 11 new HIV cases in 2021. 10 of those 11 have been confirmed in the most recent quarter while eight are tied to IV drug use.

From 2018 to now, Young said the case total for HIV is 60.

Young said the health department is averaging 14 HIV tests per day during public outreach events. 124 people have been tested by KCHD since April 6, the task force stated during the meeting.

Young said going into the communities makes a difference and people get comfortable with certain health leaders. She also stated that it’s important to get most individuals tested before the case is identified by a hospital, which most have been confirmed in hospitals in the past three years.

“Together we go down into tent city, we go into the homeless shelters. We build up rapport because we show there is a level of trust there. We also want them to trust us not only for HIV testing but for their medical needs. To know that people care, that’s when you make a difference,” she said.

Dr. Sherri Young of KCHD, center, speaks during the HIV Task Force meeting on Monday.

Two new state disease intervention specialists (DIS) dedicated to HIV are now working at KCHD, Young noted. The DIS come to the area to track those with HIV that can get tested and cared for. Health officials said at the meeting that the DIS have tracked down individuals the health department has not heard from in more than six months.

KCHD and community partners will be at the old KMart parking lot in Kanawha City from noon until 5 p.m. Tuesday offering free HIV testing as well as linkage to care.

During HIV testing events, KCHD also offers COVID-19 testing and vaccines as well as immunizations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus, a release said.

Young said the KCHD is gaining momentum and the testing numbers are up because of the credibility being built by word of mouth from patients.

“We make up pamphlets and flyers before we go into the community so they have this and plan to be in a certain place where we’ll be. They have even shown us the flyers before when they show up,” Young said.

The Monday meeting came at the request of Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin. Health officials plan to reestablish a monthly meeting schedule.

State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad was also at the meeting, via Zoom.

Future HIV testing events are posted on KCHD’s website at http://kchdwv.org/calendar/. HIV testing is also available daily by appointment at KCHD by calling 304-348-8080.