Background: Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the eastern coast of the United States on October 29, 2012 resulting in 117 deaths and 71.4 billion dollars in damage. Persons with undiagnosed HIV infection might experience delays in diagnosis testing, status confirmation, or access to care due to service disruption in storm-affected areas. The objective of this study is to describe the impact of Hurricane Sandy on HIV testing rates in affected areas and estimate the magnitude and duration of disruption in HIV testing associated with storm damage intensity.
Methods: Using MarketScan data from January 2011‒December 2013, this study examined weekly time series of HIV testing rates among privately insured enrollees not previously diagnosed with HIV; 95 weeks pre- and 58 weeks post-storm. Interrupted time series (ITS) analyses were estimated by storm impact rank (using FEMA’s Final Impact Rank mapped to Core Based Statistical Areas) to determine the extent that Hurricane Sandy affected weekly rates of HIV testing immediately and the duration of that effect after the storm.
Results: HIV testing rates declined significantly across storm impact rank areas. The mean decline in rates detected ranged between -5% (95% CI: -9.3, -1.5) in low impact areas and -24% (95% CI: -28.5, -18.9) in very high impact areas. We estimated at least 9,736 (95% CI: 7,540, 11,925) testing opportunities were missed among privately insured persons following Hurricane Sandy. Testing rates returned to baseline in low impact areas by 6 weeks post event (December 9, 2012); by 15 weeks post event (February 10, 2013) in moderate impact areas; and by 17 weeks after the event (February 24, 2013) in high and very high impact areas.
Conclusions: Hurricane Sandy resulted in a detectable and immediate decline in HIV testing rates across storm-affected areas. Greater storm damage was associated with greater magnitude and duration of testing disruption. Disruption of basic health services, like HIV testing and treatment, following large natural and man-made disasters is a public health concern. Disruption in testing services availability for any length of time is detrimental to the efforts of the current HIV prevention model, where status confirmation is essential to control disease spread.