NPR

Mapping How The Opioid Epidemic Sparked An HIV Outbreak

Researchers knew the HIV outbreak in the small town of Austin, Ind., was related to IV drug use. Mapping how the virus mutated over time revealed its path — and how it might have been stopped.
Interviews with people in Scott County, Ind., identified people at high risk of HIV infection (blue circles), and people with HIV (red circles). Larger circles represent people with more high-risk contacts. Source: CDC/Oxford University Press

When people started to show up to Dr. William Cooke's primary care office in Austin, Ind., in 2014 with HIV, Cooke knew it was probably related to the region's opioid epidemic. But what he and the rest of the public health community didn't know was who they were missing or how long the HIV outbreak had been going on.

Now they've got a clearer picture — literally. In visualizations published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, dots and lines define the constellations of Indiana's HIV outbreak. Using genetic sequencing, they show how long the outbreak had been going on, connected people who hadn't previously been linked by traditional methods, and showed how the virus jumped from a slowly spreading infection to a virus transmitted quickly via needle sharing and other, smaller sub-epidemics.

Genetic data has been used to track HIV before. But now, the technology

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR3 min read
In 'The Less People Know About Us' A Mysterious Identity Theft Hits Close To Home
Axton Betz-Hamilton was 12 when her family's mail began disappearing. Her memoir details what follows and, when she discovers the culprit, the painful process of collecting the pieces of her past.
NPR3 min read
'Modern Love' Is An Uneven Tour Of New York Romance
Amazon's adaptation of the "Modern Love" column from the New York Times boasts a big, interesting cast. The stories, on the other hand, aren't so great.
NPR2 min read
'The Blob,' A Smart Yet Brainless Organism Fit For Sci-Fi, Gets Its Own Exhibit
Is it an animal? A type of fungi? No, it's "the blob." The amorphous "slime mold" may not have a nervous system, but it's the star of a new exhibit at the Paris zoo.