HELENA – State and local public health officials have seen an increasing number of HIV diagnoses among persons who report injection drug use.
During the first six months of 2018, 11 new cases of HIV infection were investigated by public health officials. While this number is lower compared to 2017 when 15 cases were investigated, almost half reported injecting drugs as a risk factor compared to an average of 22% in earlier years.
“The current increase in IV drug associated infection is concerning in that people are putting themselves and their partners at risk,” says DPHHS HIV epidemiologist Helen McCaffrey.
The risk of becoming infected with HIV, or other blood borne diseases is very high if a person shares needles or injection equipment, or “works”, with someone who has HIV or another blood borne disease. This is because sharing needles and syringes is a direct route of transmission.
Injection drug use can also cause other diseases and complications. “HIV is major concern, but sharing needles puts people at risk for getting other infections like hepatitis B and C and both can lead to severe liver disease,” says Dana Fejes of the STD/HIV Prevention program.
Substance abuse may also increase the risk of obtaining other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or unwanted pregnancy. When people are using drugs, they are more likely to have unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, which puts them at greater risk for other STDs.
To lower an individual’s risk of HIV infection or other blood borne infections, public health authorities recommend the following:
Stopping injection and other drug use. If you keep injecting drugs, use only sterile needles and works. Never share needles or works.
Talk to your partner about HIV and other STDs and use latex condoms every time you have sex.
Have an honest and open discussion with your health care provider about your sexual history and ask if you should be tested for HIV and other STDs.
Your provider can also discuss testing for hepatitis C as well as vaccines for conditions like hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), both of which can be transmitted sexually.
In addition, health care providers are encouraged to assess and test patients for HIV infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and those with risk factors get tested more frequently. A general rule for those with risk factors is to get tested at least annually.
If you are looking for a free HIV test or a place to exchange or dispose of needles, please visit the DPHHS website at GetTested.MT.gov to find an anonymous testing or syringe exchange location.
More information about HIV, STDs, and Hepatitis C and ways to protect yourself from these diseases are available at the website.