Southern Illinois health department begins program to help prevent HIV infections

Southern Seven’s Cairo clinic is at 3014 Elm St.

CAIRO, IL — Alexander County, Illinois, has the second highest HIV rate in all of Illinois. Out of the four states in the Local 6 area, Illinois has the highest number of HIV cases. So, a local health department has started a program to help prevent new infections.

According to AIDSVu.org, there are about 35,441 people living with the human immunodeficiency virus in Illinois. That’s compared with 16,425 people in Tennessee, 11,887  in Missouri, and 6,644 in Kentucky.

In Illinois, the county with the highest HIV rate is Cook County/Chicago, where 586 out of every 100,000 people were living with HIV, based on data from 2015. Alexander County has the second highest HIV rate in the state, with 342 people per 100,000 living with the virus.

“It’s a world crisis. I mean, HIV’s been around a long time, and it reaches all walks of life,” said Carolyn Pieroni, a nurse with the Southern Seven Health Department.

To help prevent new cases, Southern Seven is helping patients obtain Truvada, a medication that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. The pill is being provided to people who are HIV-negative but are at a high-risk of acquiring the virus. The program is available to anyone living in Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties.

Nurse Carolyn Pieroni stands next to the tele-health video conference system, which allows patients in Cairo to talk with a physician in Springfield, who determines if the patient is eligible.

Anyone interested in getting the medication make an appointment with Southern Seven’s Cairo clinic at 3014 Elm St.  To determine eligibility, the person must undergo a sexual history and risk analysis, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and get a full physical at the clinic. During the physical, a doctor based in Springfield, Illinois, can talk with the patient and review findings using a tele-health video conference system that is set up in the exam room. If the doctor determines the person is eligible, she will order the medication through a pharmacy.

“The pharmacy will have to work with the client to see what their financial status is. Do they have insurance? Are they on Illinois Medicaid?” said Pieroni.

Once that is taken care of, the patient will receive a 90-day supply of Truvada through the mail. The pill must be taken once a day.

“As long as they take that consistently and take it according to their physician’s recommendations, it has a 92% effectiveness rate,” Southern Seven Health Department spokeswoman Shawnna Rhine said.

Pieroni said every three months, the patient will need to go to the clinic for a follow-up — including blood work, a physical exam, and a video conference with the doctor — before the person can get another supply of medication.

To learn more about the program and set up an appointment, call Southern Seven’s clinic in Cairo at 618-734-4167.  You can also visit the office from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays at 3014 Elm St. You can learn more about the health department at southern7.org.

The Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield is providing the tele-health system and physicians for the program.

The FDA approved Truvada in 2012. Click here to learn more about the medication.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day.

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