Southeastern Indiana HIV outbreak expands to Jackson County, health officials say

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SCOTT COUNTY (April 21, 2015) – The HIV outbreak in Scott County has spread to neighboring Jackson County, officials with the Indiana State Department of Health revealed Tuesday.

Health officials said 135 people have tested positive for HIV (129 confirmed and six preliminary) in Scott and Jackson counties, with five of those cases in Jackson County.

“The five cases in Jackson County, all of the contract tracing is complete,” Jennifer Walthall said, deputy state health commissioner. “So we feel those five cases have been isolated and contained.”

The HIV outbreak is linked to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users, although Walthall said Tuesday some more recent cases may have been sexually transmitted.

Tuesday morning, state and county health officials gave the media a walkthrough of the Austin Outreach Community Center’s One-Stop Shop, which offers resources for those affected by the outbreak. Scott County also set up a needle exchange after an executive order from Gov. Mike Pence.

As of Tuesday morning, 95 Scott County residents have used the needle exchange. Health officials said an estimated 3,111 needles have been brought to the center and 4,337 distributed.

Pence’s order will extend the needle exchange program, specifically for Scott County, through May.

“I’ve had multiple people tell me they’ve used the same needle so many times they use it until the needle breaks off in the arm,” Brittany Combs said, public health nurse for Scott County.

Participants in the needle exchange program receive an identification card as proof they obtained the needles legally.

“The way we’ve been selling it to the public is the card is a temporary prescription for you to possess the needle,” Austin Police Chief Dan Spicer said.

Indiana health officials, with help from the CDC and disease intervention specialists from Missouri, Virginia and Colorado are still trying to find an estimated 130 additional people who could be infected.

“We are still in the process of tracing all contacts,” Walthall said. “That’s why we have an increased force of disease intervention specialists here.”

Some have been critical about the state’s response to the crisis, though health officials in Scott County Tuesday were more focused on stopping the spread of the deadly disease than the politics behind it.

“Honestly we’re working within the parameters we’ve been designated,” Walthall said.

Services at Scott County’s One-Stop Shop include HIV testing, enrollment in the Healthy Indiana Plan known as HIP 2.0, state-issued ID cards along with information about prevention, treatment and substance abuse referrals.

City officials acknowledge the spotlight is on them.

“It’s done a lot,” Spicer said. “It’s probably hurt our economy. It’s hurt people wanting to come here and spend money. There’s a lot of negative to come with something like this.”

Walthall said Tuesday “patient zero” has yet to be identified.

“No, we haven’t reached our peak yet,” she said. “I think we’ll have a much better understanding of where that peak is when our contact tracing is complete.”

More resources and information about the outbreak are available here.

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