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300 percent spike in HIV infections among straight IV users in Seattle

A 300 percent increase in HIV infections among heterosexuals is unusual and concerning, say public health officials in King County.

Public Health Seattle-King County reports 27 new cases this year among heterosexuals. New infections normally hover between 7 to 10 new cases a year.

Dr. Matthew Golden, who directs the county HIV/STD program said there are new challenges.

“We have a growing opioid epidemic. And we have a growing epidemic of homelessness. Those two things have combined to create an enlarging very vulnerable population,” Golden said.

Many, but not all of the new diagnoses are in people who are living homeless and exchanging sex. Earlier this year Public Health identified a cluster of 14 cases of HIV in North Seattle. It's triggered a significant response in the normally resource-starved area. Golden said more than 400 people have been tested.

Public Health has also expanded needle exchange and is working with community partners to increase access to clinical care and a drug regime called PReP, which can prevent HIV.

Still, Golden acknowledges this is an extremely difficult population to reach. “I think we have a good plan but part of a good plan is adaptability and an ongoing effort to keep an open mind,” Golden said.

He added that the county has had a great success in controlling the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men. Overall, he said HIV rates in King County are actually down 51 percent .

But he said it’s also important to remember that intravenous use of heroin and methamphetamine is a county-wide problem.

“I think we also need to be thinking more globally about the injectors throughout King County and how we're going to meet the needs of all those people,” he said.