As HIV Rates Continues to Rise, California Department of Public Health Sends Specialists to Investigate

Press release from the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services:

Humboldt County Department of Health & (and) Human Services DHHSTwo communicable disease specialists from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are in Humboldt County assisting local officials investigating an increase in the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV that was identified last month and has caused serious concern since then.

The specialists from CDPH arrived Monday after local health officials determined that there are at least 35 people in the community who may not know that they have been exposed to the virus and may be infected and contagious.

CDPH staff is augmenting local efforts to reach out to people recently diagnosed with HIV or syphilis to ensure that they are receiving effective treatment and support. They are also helping identify additional people who may have been exposed to HIV or syphilis, and linking them to testing, treatment and prevention services, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention.

Their efforts are supplementing those by the Public Health Branch of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), who called attention to the HIV outbreak in April. Despite the collaboration, officials expect the number of people involved in the outbreak to rise due to increased testing and outreach among those who have been exposed.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV spreads rapidly in areas with high rates of poverty, drug overdose deaths and hepatitis C, what local officials are calling “a perfect storm of risk factors” for Humboldt County.

Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Donald Baird said he believes the high incidence of syphilis locally has also played a role in the spread of HIV, as syphilis significantly weakens the body’s natural defenses to HIV and speeds its spread.

So far, all of the recent diagnoses have been associated with sexual transmission, but Baird and others fear the virus could also spread among people who inject drugs and share needles, who are at high risk for the HIV infection.

With support from the state, local officials hope to avoid a repeat of a 2015 outbreak in Indiana that became one of the worst HIV outbreaks in the U.S. in recent years.

In Scott County, Ind., approximately 80 people tested positive for the virus before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, overrode state law to implement a syringe exchange program that ultimately stemmed the spread.

Humboldt County Public Health Director Michele Stephens noted the county’s high risk profile, but pointed to local syringe services programs as an important preventive factor. The community-based programs provide referrals to treatment programs, information about overdose prevention, HIV and hepatitis C testing and syringe exchange and disposal.

People always ask if syringe services programs like ours reduce the spread of disease,” Stephens said, “and I always have to tell them yes, they do, even if it’s impossible for me to show you the people who didn’t get sick, who didn’t spread the disease, who didn’t die.”

Officials advise those who believe they may have been exposed to HIV to contact the Public Health Clinic for consultation and free testing.

Particularly high-risk groups include gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, along with people who have recently had a sexually transmitted infection, and those with multiple sex partners met through hook up apps or websites. People who inject drugs or have sex under the influence of alcohol or other drugs are also at increased risk.

Health officials advise getting tested and avoiding the following risk factors:

  • Multiple or anonymous sex partners, especially those met through hookup apps or sites
  • Unprotected sex
  • Sex or needle-sharing with at-risk partners.

The takeaway message is to get tested,” said Baird. “All of these illnesses are treatable and preventable, so get tested and get healthy. We’re here to help.”

For more information or for free consultation and testing, contact the Public Health Clinic at 707-268-2108 or email freehivtest@co.humboldt.ca.us.

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26 comments

  • Alt Right For Life

    Backpage was shut down, just thunder after lightning?

    Maybe all the free needles encouraging iv drug use?

    Back in the 80’s aids was a disease that iv drug users, black people, and gay people caught.

    Is it still the same?

    • Are you for real ??

    • [edit] Anyone can catch HIV. “So far, all of the recent diagnoses have been associated with sexual transmission”. This area is predominantly white & no one is totally immune to HIV. You can call any of the professionals above and educate yourself [edit]

    • Well, it’s the same in that it still isn’t true. Disease needs treatment. How does one treat racism and ignorance? The same way one treats poverty and addiction….with jobs, a strong economy and good education.

      • This isn’t opinion, if you all read the article, the professionals are very clear on the causes of increased infection. The CDC website is also very easily accessible along with our local health department. This isn’t guess work or anything to be ignorant about or argue for the sake of arguing.

    • Hiv spreads easier to gay men due to anal sex. Thats the only reason. Women are more likely to catch it from men, due to the fact of having a mucuos membrane sex organ. Men are far less likely to catch it from women, as the penis is unlikely to rip or tear during intercourse. Most strains of hepatitis are more contagious than hiv. As far as black people having it more back then…. maybe .. tuskegee experiments intentionally infected african americans with syphilus back in that era it couldve been a contributor. Now? No. Here in the usa? No. Africa? Yeah.

  • HACHR promised the HIV rates would go down and they have skyrocketed since they started passing out needles like candy.

  • I would put it with drugs, alcohol and the hook up culture . A certain age group and mind set think they are invincible (or don’t give a flying f***).

  • Some say it’s nature’s way of cleaning up the mess

  • Mendocino Mamma

    It’s not an easy fix but here’s the real problem is all of these young addicts have no Treatment available. Their lives feel so hopeless because there’s no jobs and the economy is tanking. Then get thrown in jail and the jails are in deplorable conditions. They are filthy, they don’t disinfect, they don’t clean. They wash the bed linens in with things that are filled with feces so everything is cross-contaminated with MRSA and Hepatitis and all kinds of disgusting things, they don’t use soap in the laundry or if they do use soap they cut it back to just minimal they wash everything in cold water. The deputies of the jails laugh at these people and treat them like they’re just trash. Then you can’t get any help from anything in from Public Health because there’s no funding and there’s no needle exchange programs that are working. There is no treatment anywhere! You want to know where the problem lies it’s because there is nothing! Sure these people have problems but honestly if you don’t have programs to help people when they’re in dire need this is what you’re going to get at the end of the day. People are coming down and hepatitis positive puking everywhere and the damn place never gets disinfected people have HIV coming down sharing toothbrushes sharing razors washing in cold water you wonder where it spread and that’s where it’s coming from.

    • It may be like that where you come from in Mendocino but where I come from, Trinity, that is not the case at all. My personal inspection of the jail in Weaverville found the jail was clean, the inmates are clean, and the deputies treat the inmates well.

      Its still a depressing place, for inmates as well as deputies.

    • I believe there are several programs for detox and clean and sober houses in this area. I personally know several people who run the multiple times in rehab and back on the streets game. They receive social security/disability so their addiction is funded. They have been treated for Hep C only to go out and use again. It’s a revolving door between clean and sober living and homeless. Their choice. The reason for choosing to use again? Boredom. There are options. But some people just truly do not care as they can play this game until they kill themselves. It is hard to have compassion for people who are offered and given so many opportunities and still continue to use. I have a family member who is a junkie. The lies and manipulation are overwhelming. It is a selfish, narcissistic addiction. Even when In rehab you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop and the person decide, usually because a friend is using again, to give up being clean and hitting the streets again. If we make things too easy and make life too comfortable why should these addicts want to change?

  • I am sure the number one cause of the spread is increase in IV drug use. If you shoot up or sleep with someone that does ie a hooker idiots pick up then you can get it.

    • Mendocino Mamma

      With around one and a half million people infected with HIV in the US it is still men who have sex with men the number one infected group but that includes bisexual men. Then add in IV drug use and there you go. There are a lot of men who are bisexual that do not always tell their female partner that they are. Then further add into the equation that about 15% of those one and a half million don’t even know that they have it.

  • Maybe the local heroin problem has something to do with it…

  • The needle exchange says that they give out 6-20 needles per day that don’t get returned. That’s a lot of loose needles per year in a small community. I wonder how many of those make it onto the ground.

  • I do not know why HIV is suddenly so prevelant here. Needles, unprotected sex, combination of the two? What my instincts are telling me is that there is no going back to the idyllic area we used to be. When a small community like this ends up in the national news for the needle, drug and infectious disease problem we have a problem way bigger than anything this county can handle on their own. This county and city turned a blind eye for many years to this problem and tried to put a band aid on our problems. There is no turning back. What we had is gone. It saddens me deeply. I will be moving out of the state within the next year. I have had enough. California is an enabling state. This is the result of no consequences and enabling. I find it interesting that when Indiana has this problem and Pence implemented the needle EXCHANGE program the incidents went down. This county does not exchange. It gives out copious amounts of needles without an exchange. And there lays part of the problem.

    • Wherever you go you are likely to find the same problems. These issues aren’t unique to this area.

      • I understand completely. But this is a congested, small area that has been greatly impacted. I am tired of seeing homeless spread throughout this town. Everywhere I go. Addicts begging and passed out on the streets I’m moving out to the country on 20 acres. I will only see what I want to see.

  • Just Fancy Name

    PrEP sounds like a condom distribution program.

  • Could it be the lovely flux of trimmigrants, mixed with the general culture of some trim scenes. Are international testing and preventative measures the same. Is the cultural stigma of sleeping with someone once you are infected the same in other countries? These are all questions. But there definitely could be a connection.
    Being here, yet not certain where to reach for medical treatment or testing would be pretty frightening I imagine. Just questions.. just questions…

  • And now California has decreased the consequences for knowingly passing HIV to someone. WTF

    https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/new-california-law-reduces-penalty-knowingly-exposing-someone-hiv-n809416

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