Franklin County Making Major Push To Expand HIV Testing

Jun 27, 2019

There are about 230 new cases of HIV in Franklin County every year, mostly among people aged 25-29. On Thursday, celebrated as National HIV Testing Day, free testing is available at multiple locations across the city. 

Franklin County's HIV transmission rate has stayed relatively steady over the last few years, mirroring a nationwide trend. 

Carlos Malvestutto works on infectious diseases at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says part of the reason the rate isn't dropping here is because testing isn't routine. 

"What I find with a lot of my newly-diagnosed patients is that, even though they’ve come in contact with health care system at multiple time points in the past, they’ve never been offered an HIV test," Malvestutto says. 

Malvestutto is part of a new partnership between his department and the Ohio State East Hospital emergency department to increase testing. 

Over the last six months, each time someone comes into the emergency room, they've been offered testing for sexually-transmitted infections. For many people, the emergency room is their only exposure to health care. 

The results of the tests are sent to Malvestutto's department, which notifies patients of their results and connects them to treatment. 

"We’ve already increased the testing rates dramatically," he says. "We went from about 100 tests per year, to over 100 per month."

He says they hope to expand that model to more emergency departments in the county. 

Doctor Mysheika Roberts is the city's health commissioner.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

Public health experts agree testing is an important first step to stopping the spread: If more people get tested, more people will know their status and protect themselves or others from the disease. 

"If they are HIV-positive, it’s important for them to get in treatment," says health commissioner Mysheika Roberts. "If they are not HIV-positive, it’s important for them to think about whether they’re a candidate for PrEP, which is a pill they can take daily and it’s very effective, almost 99% effective in preventing HIV along with condom use."

During his "State Of The Union" address in February, President Trump announced a plan to stop the spread of HIV by targeting 48 hotspots for the virus nationwide. One of those is Franklin County.

Roberts say more testing, and more usage of PrEP, are two of the ways Columbus is trying to meet that goal.