Rising HIV cases in Kalkaska County
They hope it’s a fluke – an anomaly. But an increase in HIV cases in Kalkaska County is drawing the attention of the medical community. Health officials say they are alarmed by an increase in HIV cases in the small rural community east of Traverse City. So much so – that they are urging residents – and residents of surrounding counties – to get tested.
Dr. Jennifer Morse is the Medical Director of the District Health Dept. # 10, which covers Kalkaska. She says the data for 2019 has just been reported by the state. “Usually, we hardly see any diagnosed cases, usually no cases, maybe one case per year.” But now there is a big increase for what Dr. Morse calls such a small area. âUsually those numbers are really low and we don’t want to identify anyone. But the rates of new HIV diagnoses in Kalkaska around 2019 were four times higher than those seen in the general Michigan population.
âThe counties around Detroit are generally the most affected by HIV. The rate in Kalkaska was three times that of the Detroit region, âshe adds. âUsually our cases are zero to one per year. With so few cases, it’s hard to see patterns. With this group, they did a lot of investigation and interviews with individuals, and they really had a hard time coming up with any model. It is therefore difficult to target interventions.
Things have improved since 2019, but the data remains alarming. âThings have slowed down since then, but we’re still very concerned that there might be people who can be positive and don’t know it. So we really want people to be aware of that, âsays Dr Morse. âSeeing these increased cases, we are more concerned that there certainly could be a risk of an HIV epidemic linked to drug use.
People can get or pass HIV through common risk factors: âMen who have sex with men. Anyone in heterosexual relationships who may be at higher risk. Multiple partners. Intravenous drug use. People who may have had a transfusion before the 1980s.
âAny sexual intercourse and any drug use, anything can really put them in danger. If you have any concerns about high-risk behaviorâ¦ it’s okay to get tested, âsays Dr. Morse.
But HIV infections dispel myths and stereotypes. It is also present in certain bodily fluids like blood and even breast milk. Annette Marin is a registered nurse with the health department of Kalkaska Co. âNow we see that people who have been married have been infected with HIV. It can therefore touch all horizons. Not just those certain stereotypes.
Victoria Cammarata is an early intervention specialist at the Thomas Judd Care Center, which also houses the PREVENT clinic in Traverse City. âThere are certain behaviors that people adopt that increase their risk. So it’s sex, obviously. It can be heterosexual or MSM, that is, men who have sex with men. Or you can also get it through breast or perinatal milk. And intravenous drug use is obviously a huge risk factor as well. “
Health officials say now that we know some of the numbers for Kalkaska County, the next step is to encourage more testing. Dr Morse says: âIt used to be really scary to get tested for HIV because it was first and foremost a death sentence. But that has changed since the height of fears and misinformation about HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. âIt used to be really scary to get testedâ¦ People were really nervous about doing that. . It is now extremely treatable. People have the same life expectancy as everyone else if they are diagnosed early and treated well.
Marin says, âHIV testing has always been available, but a lot of people don’t think it applies to them. They see HIV as some kind of stereotypical illness, and âit’s not important to me, I’m not at risk. What we would like is for everyone to test at least once in their life. Just to know. Was something you did in your past actually a risk you weren’t aware of? “
And testing shouldn’t be limited to residents of Kalkaska. The Prevent Clinic in Traverse City receives patients from across the Grand Traverse area. Cammarata says, âWe know it’s probably not limited to Kalkaska County. Because people have sex outside their country all the timeâ¦ So we hope to increase testing everywhere. “
On the one hand, testing may have declined since COVID. Marin says, âWe have been very busy with COVID. So a lot of people didn’t (go) to their doctor, because of the unsafe feeling of going to a facility, so they didn’t do their annual checkups. And a lot of people didn’t come to the health service because we didn’t really have clinical services or they were very limited. “
On the other hand, the latest data is pre-COVID, from 2019. And in Kalkaska, some doctors were actively testing their patients. Cammarata says, âWe know that some providers screen more frequently. “
Testing has gotten easier over the years – quick tests can give you results while you wait, and home testing kits are also available. Cammarata says: âKnowledge is power. And when you know your status, you know how to move forward. Testing is very easy and there is a ton of uptime. There are mail-in self-test kits that you can contact us, and we can send them to your home or another address of your choice. Or there’s a quick test where you get your finger pricked and you know in 20 minutes.
âYou can get (home kits) here or at your local health department. Your primary care provider might also do a blood test whether or not your provider requests it – or if you ask your provider, âadds Cammarata. She says some doctors will suggest the test to their patients, other times just ask.
A medicine known as PREP can also lower your risk of getting HIV if you are at high risk. Cammarata says: âWe offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (drugs) for HIV. And then if you have an exposure, within 72 hours of your knowledge, we offer post-exposure prophylaxis.
âSexually transmitted infections are also on the rise. Syphilis and gonorrhea have increased throughout the state of Michigan. So getting tested for everything is a great idea. What we like to tell people is that knowing yourself and taking care of yourself is a great idea all around, âsays Cammarata.
To find out more about the PREVENT Clinic, Click here. For any questions call 231-935-7548
From District # 10 Health Department:
Anyone can get HIV, but you can take the following steps to protect yourself:
- Get tested for HIV. Talk to your partner about the HIV test and get tested before having sex. Use this test locator with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find an HIV testing center near you or call your local health department.
- Choose less risky sexual behaviors. HIV is transmitted mainly by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom or without taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
- Use condoms every time you have sex. Lily this sheet from the CDC on how to use condoms correctly. Order free condoms online by completing this confidential order form and DHD # 10 will mail them to you.
- Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner whose HIV is poorly controlled or to have a partner with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Both of these factors can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Get tested and treated for STDs. Insist that your partners are also tested and treated. Having an STD can increase your risk of getting HIV or passing it on to others.
- Talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention option for people who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting HIV. PrEP involves taking a specific HIV medicine each day to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex or injecting drugs. For more information, read the Clinical information sheet on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
- Do not inject drugs. But if you do, use only sterile drug-injecting equipment and water, and never share your equipment with others. Find a syringe service program near you.
DHD # 10 offers confidential HIV / STD testing at low or no cost. Contact us at 888-217-3904 to make an appointment.