Hennepin County says end to HIV epidemic is in sight

Jake Maxon leads Hennepin County's strategy to end the HIV epidemic.
Jake Maxon leads Hennepin County's strategy to end the HIV epidemic.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

Hennepin County became the fourth county in the country today to join an international campaign that changes how public health officials respond to HIV prevention and care.

The "U=U" campaign states that people who have HIV cannot sexually transmit the virus if they are being treated and the virus is undetectable in their blood. Jake Maxon, who leads Hennepin County's strategy to end the HIV epidemic, says the announcement is important because it can encourage more people to get tested and stay in treatment.

"We really are going to focus on getting people tested, to know their status, because you can't get into HIV care unless you know you're positive," Maxon said. "And then we're going to focus on empowering [people] and giving them the social support they need to stay in care."

The announcement corresponds with AIDS Action Day at Minnesota's capitol. Maxon said it's hard to understate how important the U=U stance is for the effort to end HIV.

"This is the biggest shift in HIV prevention and care in 22 years since highly active antiretrovirals were released," Maxon said. "What this means is if you are HIV positive, if you know your status and you take your meds as prescribed, the amount of virus in your body can actually lower to the amount that a doctor can't detect it."

Hennepin County receives the largest share of federal funding for combatting HIV in Minesota after the Minnesota Department of Health. That's in part because more than half of new HIV cases in Minnesota occur in Hennepin County. The county also provides HIV care to people in the 13 county metro area as well as two counties in western Wisconsin.

Last year, there were 149 new diagnoses of HIV in Hennepin County. That's a figure that's stayed relatively constant over the past three decades even as the county's population has grown dramatically.

While Maxon says public health officials believe an end to the HIV epidemic is in sight, they believe a future surge in HIV cases caused by the opioid epidemic is likely and county staff are already beginning to prepare a response.

"The number of HIV diagnoses that occurred through injection drug use has tripled since 2014, and that tripling is almost exclusively among men who are gay, bisexual, or have sex with other men and are also injecting drugs," Maxon said.

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