Recent news reports have had the Mineral County Health Department personnel scrambling to explain why the county showed up on a report from the Centers for Disease Control as being at high risk for HIV.
“Currently we have no cases of HIV or acute Hepatitis C, and we have no reason to believe there will be an outbreak that is imminent,” said Director Jenn Donovan on a Jan. 26 Facebook post. “In public health we work hard monitoring and working with our partners to make sure we are on top of it if a case does come up.”
This was in response to a Jan. 21 article in the Missoulian, “CDC identifies 2 small Montana counties among the most at-risk for HIV” and a report on NBC Montana, “Mineral Co. health department sheds light on CDC report.”
The initial CDC report stated that two Montana county’s, Mineral and Treasure, made the national list for most at-risk for HIV. Mineral County ranked 161st out of 220 and Treasure County in Montana ranked 211th.
“The study came out almost a year and a half ago,” said Donovan. “We have not seen any new cases of HIV or acute Hepatitis C in Mineral County.”
She also told NBC Montana that she’s been here for five years and there hasn’t been a reported case of HIV or acute Hepatitis C. The CDC report was conducted as the result of an epidemic of HIV infections reported in Scott County, Indiana in 2015. Donovan also stated that it’s not uncommon to use older data in public heath reports but it doesn’t necessarily reflect what is currently happening.
There were also questions as to the methodology used when creating the CDC report. In the Missoulian article, Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services stated that he didn’t think the methodology was working that well.
Researchers identified six predictors, using data from 2012 to 2014. The data was drug overdose deaths, unemployment, per capita income, white non-Hispanic population, sales of prescription opioids, and county population for which local providers have approved to prescribe buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is used in treatment of substance use disorder to reduce exposure to injections.
In 2016, substance abuse and unemployment were two of the top priorities identified in a Community Health Assessment in Mineral County, the same year the CDC study came out. However, Murphy indicated by far the lion’s share of counties most at risk are in West Virginia and Kentucky, with a scattering of counties in the Southwest and the two Montana counties.
Murphy said they question the study, “I don’t think it has really gotten much traction” he told the Missoulian.