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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Hurricane Maria Had a Significant Impact on HIV Care Outcomes

Hurricane Maria in San Juan had a significant impact on HIV outcomes among people with HIV and a history of substance use, particularly increased viral load and decreased CD4 counts, according to early data from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, at CROI, in Seattle. The average viral load following the hurricane was significantly (11 percent) higher compared to the pre-Hurricane viral load.

Until now, the health impacts of this storm on vulnerable populations were unknown. The study also found that HIV care outcomes were related to the participants’ pre-hurricane viral suppression status.

Through a computer-assisted interview, researchers studied a cohort of people living with HIV and a history of substance use from the San Juan Metro Area. They collected blood samples to measure CD4 and viral load at the launch and 6-month visits.

Viral suppression decreased from 71 to 65 percent as a result of the Hurricane, and access to care was reduced by over 22 percent.  Participants who were not virally suppressed before had significantly less access to care and lower medication adherence, but made a greater number of hospital/outpatient visits post-Hurricane.

“From results it is clear that the benefits of doing further research will help us understand divergent paths following natural disasters for vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Diana Hernandez, first author and assistant professor of sociomedical sciences.

Dr. Lisa R. Metsch, of the Mailman School is a co-author of the study which was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).