In Twin Cities, HIV infections on the rise among people who inject drugs

Health Department officials say the outbreak marks a ‘significant increase’

Clean syringes and other items involved in intravenous drug use.
Clean syringes and other items involved in intravenous drug use sit on a desk inside the Ramsey County Public Health's Syringe Services Program office in St. Paul in July 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

The Minnesota Department of Health is warning medical professionals to be on the lookout following an outbreak of HIV infections in Twin Cities residents who inject drugs.

At least 18 Twin Cities residents who inject drugs were diagnosed with HIV between December 2018 and last month, which was a “significant increase” over previous years, said Christine Jones, a section manager with the Minnesota Department of Health.

At least 13 HIV infections were reported in Hennepin County residents and five in Ramsey County residents. There are typically three or fewer people who inject drugs infected with HIV each year in these two counties, according to the agency. About 300 people test positive for HIV in Minnesota in any given year.

Most of the people who are part of this outbreak also tested positive for hepatitis C, which is also spread through blood.

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"When you're injecting drugs and sharing needles, some of the blood gets drawn up into the blood, so the blood is actually introduced to the next person you're sharing a needle with,”
Jones said. “It is actually blood-to-blood contact.”

The state is urging caregivers to provide tests to people at higher risk of HIV infection, including those who share needles, have sex partners who are HIV positive or exchange sex for money.

The state is also recommending that health care providers connect patients with treatment options and refer them to programs that provide clean syringes or HIV-prevention medications.

“The good news is now we’re at a place where we do have effective interventions to prevent transmission, as well as to treat those who are living with HIV,” Jones said.

New cases of HIV should be reported to the state Department of Health.