HIV infection among Montana injection drug users on the rise

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The number of HIV diagnoses among people who reported injection drug use is on the rise in Montana, state public health officials on Tuesday.

According to a press release by the state Department of Health and Human Services, 11 new cases of HIV infection were investigated by public health officials in the first six months of 2018. Though this number is lower than the 15 cases reported in 2017, almost half of this year’s cases reported injecting drugs as a risk factor, compared to an average of 22 percent in earlier years.

“The current increase in IV drug associated infection is concerning in that people are putting themselves and their partners at risk,” said Helen McCaffrey, an HIV epidemiologist with the state health department.

Sharing needles or syringes is a direct route of HIV transmission. Thus, the risk of becoming infected with HIV is very high for people who share needles or injection equipment, also known as “works,” with someone who has HIV or another blood-borne disease, such as hepatitis B or C.

Substance abuse also increases a person’s chances of having unprotected sex or multiple partners, which puts them at greater risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, health officials warned.

To reduce the risk of contracting HIV or another blood-borne disease, the state health department recommends the following precautions:

  • 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.

  • Health providers 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.

  • 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. Those with risk factors should get tested at least annually.

For those looking for a free HIV test or a place to exchange or dispose of needles, visit GetTested.MT.gov to find an anonymous testing or syringe exchange location. More information about HIV, STDs, Hepatitis C and ways to protect yourself from these diseases are available at www.dphhs.mt.gov.

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