Walker County highly at risk for HIV outbreak

Walker County is at risk for a HIV Outbreak according to the CDC and ranks 37th in the nation among counties.

One county in Alabama is on the brink of a new health crisis.

And the new crisis comes out of one it has been dealing with for several years.

Walker County ranks 37th in the nation among counties most" at risk" for an outbreak of HIV. That's because of the rampant drug use in the county. We sent ABC 33/40 NEWS Patrick Thomas to Walker County to find out how the county plans to deal with this striking information.

A UAB doctor said people shouldn't be shocked. Dr. James Galbraith said any time there any time there are drugs involving needles, the odds increase of spreading diseases.

A rise of drug use with needles puts Walker County in danger of a HIV outbreak, according to UAB Emergency Physician Dr. James Galbraith.

Dr. James Galbraith said, "One of the risk that hasn't been talked about is the risk of blood-born virus infections in the transmission that's occurring to drug users secondary to unclean needle sharing."

The Center for Disease Control reported this rating in 2015, which Jasper Mayor David O'Mary finds unsurprising. Mayor O'Mary said, "I can't say that I am shocked. I live close to the street in this community."

One reason Dr. Galbraith points to involves borders. He explained rates of Hepatitis C are increasing too. "What we have identified at UAB is high prevalence zip codes for Hepatitis C among young individuals residing right along the border of Jefferson county and Walker county," said Dr. Galbraith.

Mayor O'Mary said,"Certainly I am not daunted by that...certainly disappointed but not daunted by that." The mayor worries the drug use impacts more than just the drug users. "It concerns me about the burden it places on mommas and daddies and grandparents that have to look after the offspring of these folks."

Dr. Galbraith emphasized ways to reduce the risk. "Harm-reduction strategies include things like take-home naloxone to prevent overdoses. (Also) includes blood-born virus testing which expands our surveillance for HIV and Hepatitis C," said Dr. Galbraith.

Dr. Galbraith said one simple step to addressing the problem is introducing a needle sharing program. Dr. Galbraith told ABC 33/40 NEWS, "It includes more than the distribution of clean needles and discarding of used needlesOne misconception about a needle exchange is that it is not just about exchanging needles. It's about much more than that. It's about addiction and recovery, referral and mental health referral. Introduce strategies to reduce harm to individuals who are injecting. "

Essentially people who want to dispose of needles can place them in a container approved for medical use and return it a public health facility or department. The doctor said this helps insure it is properly disposed of and avoids transmission of diseases.

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