Tyler County has the Northern Panhandle’s highest rate of HIV

WHEELING — A new state report indicates Tyler County — the area’s least populous county — has the Northern Panhandle’s highest percentage of residents living with diagnosed cases of human immunodeficiency virus.

According to West Virginia’s latest “HIV Epidemiologic Profile,” 12 people living with HIV resided in Tyler County as of Dec. 31, 2016. With an adjusted total population of 9,713, the county’s crude rate of HIV incidence was 123.5.

But Ohio County had the largest actual number, 48, of people living with HIV in the Northern Panhandle at that time. The county’s adjusted population was listed at 48,024, giving it a crude rate of 100 for HIV.

The 2016 numbers are the latest available from state health authorities.

Statistics for other Northern Panhandle counties were as follows:

• Brooke — 13 people living with HIV among an adjusted population of 25,767, for a crude rate of 50.5.

• Marshall — 23 people living with HIV; adjusted population of 57,310 and crude rate of 40.1.

• Hancock — 12 people living with HIV; adjusted population, 33,078; crude rate, 36.3.

• Wetzel — five people living with HIV; adjusted population, 17,916; crude rate, 27.9.

However, state epidemiologists cautioned that Wetzel County’s crude rate may be inaccurate. A footnote in the report stated: “Reported numbers less than 12, as well as estimated rates based on these numbers, should be interpreted with caution because the numbers have underlying relative standard errors greater than 30.0 percent and are considered unreliable.”

Eight West Virginia counties’ crude rates of HIV were higher than the percentage in Tyler County. The highest crude rates for Mountain State counties were listed in Berkeley, 213.4; Pleasants, 197.1; Kanawha, 171.3; Cabell, 166.3; Raleigh, 158.3; Marion, 151.8; Jefferson, 149.8, and Monongalia, 17.9.

The number of people living with HIV were in the triple-digit range for five counties in the state. The counties with the top number of residents living with HIV were identified as Kanawha, 347 people; Berkeley, 164; Cabell, 163; Raleigh, 127; and Monongalia, 106.

This report indicates 1,746 people were living with HIV in West Virginia, for a crude rate of 95.4 statewide, as of Dec. 31, 2016. The state’s adjusted population at that time was estimated at 1.8 million.

State officials explained that the adjusted population of each county was calculated based on the 2010 census, adjusted for the estimated 2016 population for West Virginia.

According to the report, an estimated 300 people living with HIV in West Virginia, or 12.1 percent, do not know they are infected.

Nationwide, it is estimated 15 percent of people with the infection are unaware of their status.

The West Virginia HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program report stated: “To achieve viral suppression and prevent the spread of HIV, a focused effort on routine screening must continue. In West Virginia, multiple agencies and organizations are working together in order to identify those who do not know their HIV status, engage them in care and ensure their adherence to care and treatment.”

State officials said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adolescents and adults be tested for HIV at least once, and people at increased risk be tested at least annually.

The epidemiologic report stated: “People living in West Virginia were less likely to be diagnosed with an HIV infection over the course of their life than people living in other parts of the country.”

Officials said West Virginia ranked 39th in the United States for lifetime risk of HIV diagnosis.

“West Virginia is considered to be a low incidence HIV state. In recent years, the average annual number of new diagnosed HIV infections is 81. Persons at greatest risk for acquiring HIV in West Virginia are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and high-risk heterosexuals,” the report stated.

In a cautionary note, officials added, “However, West Virginia remains vulnerable to an HIV outbreak among persons who inject drugs because (they) are likely to share injection equipment, which is the most efficient way to transmit HIV.”

The top five counties in the state reporting new diagnoses of HIV infections including stage 3 (AIDS) during 2012-16 were Kanawha, Raleigh, Cabell, Berkeley and Monongalia. Prevalence of HIV was greatest in urban areas, such as Martinsburg, Charleston, Huntington, Beckley and Morgantown.