MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – No state has been hit as hard by the ongoing opioid epidemic as West Virginia. The Mountain State continues to lead the nation in drug overdose death rates. Going hand in hand with the opioid crisis and intravenous drug use, West Virginia has also seen increases in infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C.
Seeing the need to adapt and address this problem, the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI) recently brought together some of the nation’s leading experts in infectious disease and public health to collaborate and discuss the problem during the West Virginia Emerging Epidemics Symposium. This symposium included representation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Columbia University, and the West Virginia Practice-Based Research Network.
“Bringing together these experts is a phenomenal chance to leverage expertise and discuss feasible and effective strategies to address these emerging infectious disease epidemics,” said Sally Hodder, M.D., WVCTSI director and associate vice president for clinical and translational science at West Virginia University.
This two-day event kicked off with a national perspective on HIV and hepatitis C among persons who inject drugs presented by Alexandra Oster, M.D., captain in the United States Public Health Service, and lead of the Outbreak Coordination Unit and Transmission and Molecular Epidemiology Team in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.
Following up on the national perspective, Catherine C. Slemp M.D., MPH, commissioner and state health officer with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Public Health, presented on the implications of the emerging viral diseases in West Virginia.
The first day concluded with a keynote address from MacArthur Genius Awardee Wafaa El-Sadr, M.D., MPH, MPA, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University and director of ICAP. Dr. El-Sadr presented a perspective that she and co-author Hodder recently had published in the New England Journal of Medicine. One of the key points of El-Sadr’s presentation was the importance of combating the stigma associated with these epidemics.
“It’s critical to engage affected people in ways that mitigate stigma and discrimination,” said El-Sadr. “This emphasis on solidarity contrasts with the sense of isolation and alienation that many vulnerable Americans may feel as sexual, racial, or ethnic minorities, or because they are poor.”
Day 2 of the symposium kicked off with presentations from Nicole Bryan, M.D., assistant professor of medicine with the WVU School of Medicine, and Judith Feinberg, M.D., FACP, FIDSA, professor in the WVU departments of Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry. Bryan presented on hepatitis and HIV screening among pregnant women in West Virginia. Feinberg followed with a presentation on pre-exposure prophylaxis that prevents HIV acquisition.
Following this presentation, Michael Zapor, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, FIDSA, chief of medicine service with the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, presented on the work being done to combat hepatitis C among veterans. Engaging WVCTSI partners in the Department of Veterans Affairs is critically important because of West Virginia’s high number of veterans as well as the prevalence of these infections among veterans.“The Veterans Health Administration is the nation’s largest care provider for chronic hepatitis C virus infection, with rates about three times the national average,” said Zapor.
The symposium concluded with presentations from Amber Crist M.S., Craig Robinson, MPH, and Letitia Tierney, M.D., from the Cabin Creek Health System and West Virginia Practice-Based Research Network and a panel discussion involving Crist, Robinson, Tierney, Oster, Slemp, and Zapor, focused developing a plan of action to further combat these emerging epidemics.
The panel specifically highlighted the importance of engaging the community in the anti-stigmatized treatment of these epidemics. Other key strategies that were emphasized in the discussion included anti-stigma campaigns and the integration of services in one stop shops that can address the geographic barriers experienced by many patients in rural West Virginia.
“It was incredibly helpful to brainstorm and collaborate with this incredible group of individuals dedicated to combating these epidemics,” said Hodder. “By bringing together experts and primary care providers and administrators as we have through this event, we can develop recommendations and a meaningful action plan to address these issues plaguing West Virginia.”
WVCTSI is funded by an IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (5U54GM104942-03) to support the mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.
CONTACT: Ian Moore, Communications Coordinator
West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute