FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – At Monday’s Allen County Department of Health meeting, Anna Menze, the health department’s medical director, announced that HIV cases are up in Allen County.

Menze’s announcement may have gotten lost in the excitement over the naming of a new health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Gutwein, but it was concerning.

Positive HIV cases in Allen County have already surpassed last year’s total according to Kathy Thornson, the health department’s Director of HIV and STD Prevention.

Chart of the year-to-year positive HIV cases in Allen County, data gathered from the Allen County Health Department

Although at first glance it makes sense that, in a year that is seeing an influx of drug-related deaths, infection through used needles would be contributing to the spike. Thornson says the data the Health Department has gathered asserts other causes.

“We see a lot of the risk groups identified in the positives this year are the men having sex with men population,” Thornson said

“We are definitely seeing an uptick in the heterosexual cases that we are identifying. We are seeing syphilis increases, and there’s a cross-over between HIV and syphilis infection as well.” Thornson said.

Thornson thinks the real force behind the uptick is COVID getting more under control.

“People are just getting their confidence back to see their providers and to ask for testing and discuss things they want to be tested for.”

Thornson thinks that the combination of confidence in seeing doctors and having more social interactions are two big reasons why COVID’s impact being lessened has fueled the uptick.

This makes treatment and testing as important as in years past.

“Get the test and go to a provider. Get the testing done, find out what medications work best for you, and then maintain that. Staying in care is essential and keeping that medication routine because that’s what suppresses the viral load to stop transmission for individuals.”

The viral load is the amount of HIV in a sample of blood, and keeping that number low is key if the United States wants to stay on track to eradicate HIV by 2030, a goal they have shared before.

It’s a goal that Thornson now thinks will be pushed back because of COVID playing a hand in a lack of testing the past two years.

“They may have to tweak the numbers a little bit because those were made before the COVID pandemic.”

She is still confident the means are available to complete the goal at some point in the future.

“With all the resources and the tools, we have now, with the medications both for someone who is positive and someone who is negative to try and suppress viral loads it’s making it a doable picture to actually eradicate.”

You can find testing and treatment options on the Allen County Department of Health website.