HIV, hepatitis C growing problems in southwest Virginia

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Confirmed cases of hepatitis C continue to be a growing problem in southwest Virginia.

New numbers from the Virginia Department of Health and a local testing facility show the number is on the rise. But the number of people getting tested is down.

That means there could more people out there who are positive and don't even know. Despite the rise in the number of cases that have tested positive, the Drop In Center, which has locations in Roanoke, the New River Valley, Danville and across local college campuses have seen a drastic decrease in the number of those who are tested.

"For our youth, I just feel like they are walking into a black hole almost," the director of the Drop In Center, Pam Meador, explained.

The Drop In Center is a program through the Council of Community Services. Meador said the face of the disease is changing, and getting younger.

"It is very alarming for me," Meador said. We're also seeing an increase with HIV and hep C in our injection population. And as you know, southwest Virginia has a huge opiate problem."

She said less sex education at school and at home, and an increase in drug use is to blame.

On average, the Drop In Center tests a little over 300 people a month for HIV. This year, that number has dropped to 200. Hepatitus C testing is even lower - not even half as much.

In 2013, 29 percent of all people tested for hepatitis C tested positive. In 2014, the number jumped to 38 percent. Meador said this year is on-trend to meet that number.

The Drop In Center said it is working to distribute clean works kits for users to sterilize needles and wounds. Meador said, along with working to test more people, the kits will help protect the unknowing victim from a potentially deadly disease.

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