Health officials warn Eastern Kentucky at risk of HIV outbreak

Published: Apr. 26, 2016 at 6:41 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Following a wave of HIV that swept through a southeastern Indiana community last year, federal, state and local health officials are warning something similar could happen in Eastern Kentucky.

CDC officials say since late 2015, more than 180 people identified as intravenous drug users have been diagnosed with HIV in Austin, Indiana.

They say Hazard and other parts of Eastern Kentucky could be in for a similar outbreak.

"It's probably the most scared that I've been in the 27 years I've been with the health department," said Karen Cooper, director of the Kentucky River District Health Department.

Cooper says Hazard and Austin share similar demographics and family ties, with many people travelling between the two locations.

"You know when the CDC calls and says we're looking at Hazard, we're looking at Perry County, because we don't want them to be the next Austin," she said.

Federal health officials ranked counties nationwide based on their vulnerability for HIV and Hepatitis C to spread among IV drug users.

54 of the top 220 are in Kentucky, and more than half are located in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, West virginia and Tennessee.

"The IV drug abuse population in the community here is actually pretty high, and we're trying to do things to number one identify IV drug abusers so that we can test," said Dr. Bart Francis, director of emergency services at ARH in Hazard.

Dr. Francis says ARH is promoting education about injection drug abuse and working to make sure people who are high-risk get tested.

He says thankfully, Hepatitis C can now be cured, and while there is no cure for HIV, in many cases it can be easily managed with medication.

It's a one pill a day treatment, and people live normal lives. You can live until your 80s with HIV these days," Dr. Francis said.

Those treatments are expensive, he says, and an ounce toward preventing the spread of infectious disease is worth a pound of cure.


The following is a list of Eastern Kentucky counties and their national rankings for vulnerability to the rapid spread of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

Wolfe Co. - 1

Breathitt Co. - 3

Perry Co. - 4

Clay Co. - 5

Bell Co. - 6

Leslie Co. - 8

Knox Co. - 9

Floyd Co. - 10

Owsley Co. - 12

Whitley Co. - 14

Powell Co. - 15

Knott Co. - 17

Pike Co. - 21

Magoffin Co. - 23

Estill Co. - 25

Lee Co. - 30

Menifee Co. - 31

Martin Co. - 34

Lawrence Co. - 39

Rockcastle Co. - 40

Harlan Co. - 45

McCreary Co. - 48

Letcher Co. - 50

Johnson Co. - 53

Elliott Co. - 56

Laurel Co. - 65

(Source: Geospatial Research, Analysis, and Services Program (GRASP), Div. of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences, ATSDR (2015))