Jackson County Health Department helping people at high-risk for HIV

JACKSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - The Jackson County Health Department is helping treat those at high-risk of contracting HIV through PrEP (Pre-Exposure prophylaxis).

PrEP is a treatment plan that uses special medication meant to protect the body from contracting HIV. Jackson County Health is helping clients to gain access to this medication by educating them on behaviors that put them at risk as well as helping them get access to the right medication by referring them to the right clinicians and enrolling them into appropriate medication assistance programs. This includes co-pay for those with health insurance.

Jackson County Health officials said they are seeking to reach out to those who are at high-risk for different reasons such as HIV negative clients who have an HIV positive partner; women with an HIV positive partner who want to have a healthy pregnancy; men who engage in unprotected sexual practices with other men; as well as drug users who take drugs with an injection.

The latter is where there is some controversy in the medical field.

"One of the fears of truvada [the medication used for PrEP] is that it's almost looked at as being a sort of blessing or safety net that will allow somebody to continue using IV drugs," Dr. Jeff Ripperda, physician in Murphysboro, said

Division director of HIV services for the Jackson County Health Department, Paula Clark, said the point of medical professionals is to help and not to judge. She said helping with people's behavior is just as important as helping them get access to medications.

"Most of the top ten causes of death are behavior related. Let's say that someone goes into the doctor and they're overweight and they need to exercise and start eating better," Clark said. "If they go back to the doctor and don't make those changes, then they get put on cholesterol and high blood pressure medication or they'll get heart disease or have a stroke. There's no difference when somebody comes in for PrEP."

"It's been shown that getting on this kind of medication doesn't encourage drug use by any stretch of the imagination," Dr. Ripperda added. "Is it perfect? No, in a perfect world we wouldn't have people using IV drugs, but we know that there are going to be some people who are gonna use it so why not try to make it safe as possible?"

When it comes down to the wire, these preventative medications are meant to help people who have or are at high-risk to contract HIV live more healthy and normal lives. Medical professionals know there are those who won't change their behavior, but they still want to help those who will.

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