New report released today indicates HIV outbreak in people who inject drugs in King County appears to be over, though population’s vulnerability persists

In 2018, an outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs in King County led to an increased Public Health focus on lowering risk in this population, including enhanced education, testing and syringe exchange services.  A new report released today indicates that the outbreak appears to be over.  While the overall number of new HIV diagnoses has not returned to pre-2018 levels, it is moving back in that direction: In 2019 there were 183 new HIV diagnoses in King County, compared to 217 new diagnoses in 2018. The majority of the cases are among men who have sex with men (MSM).

While the decrease in new cases is welcome news, much can still be done to lower risk for HIV transmission and assure that those who are HIV-positive are able to live healthy lives. Early diagnosis is critical to get people on treatment and virally suppressed. In King County, 85% of people with an HIV diagnosis are virally suppressed. People with virally suppressed HIV generally feel well and are unable to spread the virus to others.

There are other tools to reduce transmission, including PreP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily medication that prevents the spread of the HIV virus. PrEP use among MSM who are at highest risk for HIV is 47%. This is a high rate of PreP use compared to national and international rates.

We continue to see racial disparities in HIV incidence and viral suppression. New HIV diagnoses were disproportionately high among Black and Latino/a people, and viral suppression was lower among U.S.-born Black people living with HIV than other racial groups. Viral suppression rates are lowest among U.S.-born non-Hispanic Black people (77%), as well as among people who inject drugs (77%).

“Our team is relieved that the 2018 outbreak among people who inject drugs in King County appears to be over,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, HIV/AIDS Control Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “But we cannot lower our guard. The factors that led to the outbreak – substance use, homelessness, and poverty – persist. HIV is a preventable and treatable infection. We still have a lot of work to ensure that everyone with HIV and at-risk for HIV in King County gets the treatment and prevention services they need.”

Local, state, and federal partners are determined to achieve the end of the HIV epidemic, which has shortened lives for people across our county and country for almost 40 years. Scientific advances should make it possible to stop HIV transmission and end the epidemic. Public Health – Seattle & King County recently received several large federal grants under the national Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative. Over the next five years, a coalition of community partners will launch and/or expand numerous treatment and prevention activities to improve the following outcomes: HIV diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and cluster identification and response. 

For more information:

Read the HIV Program’s 2020 Annual Report

About the HIV/AIDS Program in King County

Originally posted December 16, 2020