Ozark County tagged as being at risk for outbreak of HIV, hepatitis C
Ozark County is one of 13 Missouri counties identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for being at risk of outbreaks of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) because of the opioid crisis, according to a recent study.
Other Missouri counties that made the list include Bates, Cedar, Hickory, Iron, Wright, Ripley, Crawford, Madison, St. Francis, Reynolds, Washington and Wayne counties.
Currently, there are no known cases in Ozark County, health officials said.
The CDC report looked at a number of factors to determine how vulnerable a county is to having a “rapid dissemination” of HIV/HCV infections among those who inject drugs.
The study is another layer on an already problematic and tragic opioid crisis that is gripping the nation.
In addition to the 220 counties in 26 states identified as being vulnerable to a potential HIV/HCV outbreak, 34 states are already dealing with statewide outbreaks, the CDC says.
Drug users who share or use dirty needles are what is causing the spike in HIV/HCV cases nationwide. To find counties most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C, researchers analyzed factors including pharmacy sales of prescription painkillers, overdose deaths and unemployment rates.
Of the 220 counties—out of more than 3,100 in the U.S. and including Ozark County—most are rural: 56 percent are in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia in the Appalachian region hardest-hit by the opioid crisis.
The CDC shared the results with the 26 affected states, urging them to step up testing for HIV and hepatitis C in places frequented by injection drug users and to develop plans to respond to potential outbreaks.
Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said he hadn’t seen the report, and would have to look at it before commenting at length.
“I’d like to see how they come up with this information,” Reed said. “Of course drug use is a problem and it’s always a risk when users share needles. I’m just not sure we’re knocking on the door of an outbreak.”
Reed said that in a county like Ozark with a small population sometimes the numbers are a little skewed.
Ozark County Health Department administrator Rhonda Suter said her department has seen “no known cases” of HIV/HCV, although there have been cases in past years.
But Suter said she understands why the county is vulnerable. “It’s because of the opioid crisis, and Ozark County is ranked pretty high on that list,” she said, noting that a small population and poverty play significant roles in CDC rankings.
“Obviously, some people don’t make good choices, and, of course, our advice is to not do drugs at all,” Suter said. “But sharing needles really puts people at serious risk.”