A cluster of eight people in North Seattle — described as heterosexuals, drug users, and those experiencing homelessness — have been diagnosed with HIV infections since February, according to a report from The Seattle Times. Now, health officials worry these cases could represent a new pattern of transmission.
Overall, there have been 19 new diagnoses in Kings County, Washington this year compared to only eight in total for all of last year. Most of the new cases don’t have access to healthcare and were diagnosed HIV-positive in February.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health from Seattle and King County said in a statement, “There could be a large outbreak potentially. There may be a large number of people vulnerable to new HIV infections which would be a very big problem.”
In Washington state, 461 cases have been diagnosed since 2012, on average, according to State Department of Health statistics. Of that number, an average of 290 each year were among gay and bisexual men. In the past decade, an average of 10 heterosexual IV drug users are diagnosed with HIV in the county each year.
At least half of the eight individuals within the newly-discovered cluster are now receiving medical care. Duchin added that health officials are working to make sure syringe-exchange and condom programs are meeting demands. The local health department also is increasing testing and outreach to people experiencing homelessness.