- The Washington Times
Thursday, August 20, 2020

District officials on Thursday announced a significant drop in newly diagnosed HIV cases in D.C. compared to the previous year, citing an annual report on sexually transmitted infections.

Newly diagnosed HIV cases decreased to 282 cases in 2019, a 16% drop from 335 in 2018. There has been a 79% decline in cases since 2007 when 1,374 cases were reported. Among those newly diagnosed in 2019, 59% reached viral suppression within 90 days compared to 45% the previous year.

“Still, we’re not where we want to be,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “DC Health and so many of our partners have been working to spread the message that you can live with HIV, you can suppress your viral load and you can make sure you are keeping others safe by a number of means. So by all means, know your status. That continues to be the best way to protect our community and our public health.”

The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases attributable to injection drug use has declined drastically since 2007 — before the expansion of the District’s needle exchange program. Last year, only two cases linked to injection drug use were reported compared to 150 cases in 2007 — a 99% drop.

According to the report, there are 12,408 current residents — 1.8% of the city’s population — living with HIV, with Black and Latino residents disproportionately represented among those cases.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, DC Health director, on Thursday acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting how residents obtain health care services, which could have a potential impact on diagnosing and treating HIV. In response, the District has expanded telehealth options and home-based testing.

DC Health in June began providing free, at-home HIV test kits to District residents. The OraQuick rapid HIV test kit allows a person to self-swab their mouth and delivers results in 20 minutes. Residents can visit GetCheckedDC.org for more information and to order a free test.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects people with HIV. However, based on limited evidence, the CDC says it believes people who are on effective HIV treatment have the same risk for the coronavirus as individuals who don’t have HIV.

People with HIV with a low count of CD4 cells (which help coordinate immune responses) and who are not on an effective treatment such as antiretroviral therapy are at greatest risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, the CDC says.

As of Thursday, the District reported 55 new positive coronavirus cases and one more death. The coronavirus has sickened 13,409 people and killed 601 in the District, according to health department data.

While the annual report highlights progress in combating the HIV epidemic, the District still falls short of its goals outlined in the mayor’s 90/90/90/50 plan. The plan’s goals include having 90% of HIV-positive District residents know their status, 90% of District residents with HIV in treatment, 90% of these residents who are in treatment reach viral suppression and a 50% reduction in HIV diagnoses, or 196 cases, by 2020.

Although 90% of residents with HIV know their status, the District still falls a bit short of the other goals in the plan. Eighty percent of residents with HIV are receiving treatment while 87% of residents in treatment reached viral suppression in 2019. New HIV diagnoses need to drop by 86 cases in order to meet the goal of cutting diagnoses in half.

The report also found there were 9,337 cases of chlamydia, 4,374 cases of gonorrhea, 1,099 people with newly diagnosed hepatitis C and 297 cases of primary and secondary syphilis reported last year.

There were 24 cases of tuberculosis in 2019, a 33% decrease from 36 in 2018.

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