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More money for HIV care; sharp increase in meningitis

Merdies Hayes | 8/12/2016, midnight
HIV and AIDS may not dominate the nightly news as much as it once did, however the danger of these ...

HIV and AIDS may not dominate the nightly news as much as it once did, however the danger of these infections is still present. This week the Board of Supervisors approved $3 million in funding to expand access to HIV medical care.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (Third District) recommended the expansion, saying nearly 60,000 people in Los Angeles County live with the virus that causes AIDS.

“When people living with HIV get regular medical treatment, they live longer, healthier lives and are less likely to transmit the virus,” Kuehl said.

The funds will be directed to a program called Medical Care Coordination, which helps patients get to their doctor’s appointments and stay on track, by regularly taking medication that suppresses the virus.

About 1,200 residents are currently enrolled in the program and the new funding could reach 8,000 more, according to Kuehl and fellow Supervisor Hilda Solis.

“The total number of patients directly affected by these services is relatively small, but the ripple effect is likely to be much more far-reaching,” Kuehl said.

Solis said the expanded program would benefit “many of our most underserved and vulnerable residents, including in the Latino and African-American communities.”

Kuehl in particular has been a champion of prevention and care for those at risk of or affected by HIV.

She has successfully called for increased access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP — a pill that is up to 99 percent effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection — for uninsured and under-insured residents.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health estimates that a minimum 2,000 residents become infected with HIV each year, including large numbers of gay men, African Americans, Latinos and transgender people. About 50,000 Americans and 2 million worldwide were newly infected with HIV in 2014.

Related to the funding increase for HIV/AIDS care is an increase in cases of meningitis among gay and bisexual men. Nineteen cases of invasive meningococcal disease have been diagnosed this year and, given the number of cases here and in other jurisdictions, the state has declared an outbreak. Previously, health officials had recommended vaccination for gay and bisexual men “who regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners or who seek partners through digital applications, particularly those who share cigaretts, marijuana or other illgal drugs.” Meningitis vaccinations are also recommended for all HIV-infected people.

Health officials said people can help to prevent the spread of meningitis by not sharing drinks, utensils, food and toothbrushes. Meningitis can start with flu-like symptoms, then progress to high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion and rash. The disease is fatal in about one in 10 patients.