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Cabell County HIV cluster now at 71 cases
Frequency of diagnoses rose slightly over the summer

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County's ongoing HIV cluster, still the only one active in West Virginia, has risen to 71 cases, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The total crept up by an average two additional new cases each week over the past nine weeks. This indicates a marginal rise in the frequency cases are now being diagnosed. In the prior nine weeks (April 28 through June 21), Cabell County averaged one new case each week.

One death, in June, has been associated with the Cabell County cluster, DHHR confirmed.

The cluster, tracked from January 2018 to the present, represents a sharp uptick from the baseline average of eight cases annually over the past five years. West Virginia, like most Appalachian states, has historically had some of the nation's lowest rates of HIV diagnoses (4.3 cases per 100,000 residents), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neighboring Kentucky (7.9 per

100,000) and Ohio (8.8 per 100,000) have fared similarly.

But so far, Cabell County alone already has more confirmed HIV cases this year than the entire state of West Virginia has had in a single year since 2008 (84 cases that year), according to DHHR statistics.

The stark increase reflects a shift in how HIV is being transmitted — what has historically been spread by sexual contact between men is now being passed between intravenous drug users through unclean syringes.

Likewise, Cabell County's cluster has spread primarily among the county's population of intravenous drug users, of which there are an estimated 1,800 active in Cabell County.

Though it is currently the only active HIV cluster in West Virginia, a new handful of cases have cropped up along the Ohio River Valley in the wake of the nationwide opioid epidemic.

The situation is still defined as a cluster rather than a full outbreak. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health characterizes a cluster as being confined to a certain population — in this case, IV drug users —where it may be able to be controlled with minimal risk to the general public.

The cluster has noticeably contributed to more individuals using the county's Harm Reduction Program, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported at its June Board of Health meeting. The influx indicates the population at risk — chiefly intravenous drug users — is aware they are vulnerable and actively seeking help to protect themselves.

The Harm Reduction Program, which includes the syringe exchange, saw 937 visits in May, including 52 new individuals enrolled, according to statistics reported at the department's monthly board of health meeting Wednesday. In April, the program had 853 visits.

Clients actively mention their HIV fears when visiting the Harm Reduction Program, said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, CHHD physician director, in a prior interview.

The goal of a syringe exchange is to provide one clean syringe for every intravenous injection of drugs. Syringe exchanges have been used for more than 30 years in hundreds of locations nationwide — including nearly 20 in West Virginia — to discourage the use of sharing dirty needles leading to the spread of bloodborne illnesses like HIV and hepatitis.

These programs have nearly universal support from public health officials, state and federal, as an effective, inexpensive means to controlling disease. Syringe exchanges also encourage an otherwise hard-to-reach population of intravenous drug users to visit a clinical setting, which then can become a talking point to referring them to treatment.

Between 2018 and May 2019, more than 900 harm reduction clients in West Virginia were referred to treatment — about 300 of those from Cabell-Huntington's program alone, according to DHHR.

Cabell-Huntington's syringe exchange serves an estimated 600 individuals with varying regularity — some weekly, others with months between visits.

DHHR posts weekly updates on Cabell County's HIV totals each Monday at oeps.wv.gov/hiv-aids.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.


Workers cut down, remove large tree at Ritter Park

HUNTINGTON — A large tree was removed from 13th Avenue along Ritter Park on Monday morning.

The city contracted Mayo Family Tree Services LLC to cut down a dead tree in the 1100 block of 13th Avenue. Because of the tree's size, the city chose to contract the project instead of using city employees.

Trees removed by the city have the chance at being replaced in the spring. This past spring, Kotalic Landscaping of West Virginia planted 12 trees in holes left by removed trees.


HMDA OKs sale of property for stadium
Marshall University to buy the site for $468K

HUNTINGTON — Members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority agreed Monday to sell the future site of the Marshall University baseball stadium to the university.

Members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, or HMDA, were previously undecided about what to do with the two properties, which consisted of a warehouse and parking lot of the former Flint Group Pigments. They had considered donating the properties to the university or retaining ownership of it in a public-private partnership.

Following an executive session Monday, HMDA members agreed to sell the two properties to the university for $468,000.

HMDA members purchased the properties in February for $750,000, which is part of a larger plan to redevelop underused industrial properties in that area. That purchase was made possible with $500,000 won by Huntington in the 2017 America's Best Communities competition and the remaining $250,000 from the HDMA.

University officials and HMDA members joined together in a Feb. 21 press conference to announce the future site of the university's 3,500-seat ballpark. The stadium, which is estimated to cost up to $22 million, has been a goal for the city and university for many years.

The stadium's construction is slated to be placed out for bid by November 2019 with ground breaking by March 2020. It is estimated to take up to 12 months to construct with a goal of playing the first game there by March 2021.

Fundraising for the project is still underway. Things are "going well," but it's still too early to talk about how much money has been raised, said Jason Corriher, assistant

athletic director for media relations, in an email.

Marshall currently plays at George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center on W.Va. 2, about seven miles from campus. For the last 13 seasons, the Thundering Herd played Conference USA home games at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley.

Also during Monday's meeting, HMDA members heard from Peter Potesta, staff engineer with Potesta & Associates, about an ongoing hillside slip at Kinetic Park.

The hillside at Kinetic Park previously suffered a landslide, which brought slurry and other material to the bottom of the hill. Some of the material has been cleaned up, but the hillside has not been repaired, Potesta said.

"A lot of the issue is the water is in control," Potesta said.

Potesta has retained K&N Contracting of Elkview to complete necessary slip repairs, which will include installing drains and several inclines to stabilize the hillside.

He assured HMDA members the repair would be the final fix to the slide.

"If there's any sign of slipping I know for a fact K&N would be in there to fix it, they have their name attached to it," he said.

K&N is currently finishing up a separate project, but hopes to begin mobilizing the repair within two weeks time, he said. Final paperwork is still in the works.

Travis Crum is a reporter for the Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


Victim: Man kept woman in abandoned house for weeks
New Jersey resident threatened to kill her if she left him, woman says

Murray

HUNTINGTON — A New Jersey man faces felony charges after a woman he met at a party accused him of confining her to an abandoned house in Huntington for roughly two weeks — threatening to kill her if she left him.

Paul Frederick Murray, 32, of South Orange, New Jersey, is charged with abduction of a person, according to criminal complaints from Cabell County Magistrate Court.

The victim, who managed to contact Huntington Police on Sunday morning after escaping to a family member's home, told detectives she met Murray at a gathering at a friend's house around two weeks ago. After leaving the party, he then escorted her to an abandoned house in the 2500 block of 4th Avenue and would not let her leave, threatening to slit her throat with a black-and-yellow razor blade, complaints state.

The two did leave the residence together occasionally, the victim said, but she added that Murray kept a close watch to prevent her escape. The victim said that on several occasions, Murray physically held her down, and that she believed his threats to kill her.

After finally escaping, Murray followed the victim to the family member's house but was met by Huntington police shortly after. A razor blade was found in his pocket during a patdown search, complaints state.

Murray was transported to Western Regional jail at 12:05 p.m. Sunday. Cabell County Magistrate Judge Dan Goheen set no bond following his arraignment.

The case remains active as Huntington Police detectives continue to piece together details, Chief Hank Dial said Monday. No further information was released.