HIV Epidemic Strikes an Indiana County

Needle-sharing fueled the outbreak
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 26, 2015 9:18 AM CDT
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence meets with local officials in Scott County to discuss an HIV outbreak in the area, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind.   (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(Newser) – In one southern Indiana county, at least 72 people have been diagnosed with HIV since December. The Scott County "epidemic" has been fueled by opiate addicts sharing needles, and it's moving fast—another seven residents have tested "preliminary positive," and Reuters reports that officials fear the number of cases could hit triple digits. One doctor in the town of Austin has been warning about such an outbreak for a while: Since he set up his clinic a decade ago, he's watched the opiate problem worsen; the town ultimately became the epicenter of the outbreak, NBC News reports. "We knew it was [only a] matter of time until HIV set in," he says. "We've been asking for help for a long time." The CDC sent officials to Austin on Monday and officially confirmed an epidemic, specialists have started tracking the spread of HIV, and today, Gov. Mike Pence will declare a public health emergency.

Pence met with health care professionals yesterday to get recommendations; the aforementioned Austin doctor suggested a clean-needle program—in Austin, dirty needles are a common sight in yards and on roadsides. Pence doesn't agree with such programs, but he'll consider it in this case, the AP reports. The doctor also suggested the state find a way to combat Scott County's poverty, which is fueling the problem. "My clinic serves the poorest people in Indiana, potentially the poorest in the country," he says, adding that some of his patients pay $10 or less for care. "We need help. But that costs money." Other towns struggling with poverty could see the same problem, he warns: "As far as this HIV outbreak, we are the canary in the coal mine."

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