Austin, Indiana recovers from 190 HIV cases; serves as warning to rural America

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SCOTT COUNTY, Ind. (April 11, 2016) – A southeastern Indiana county is receiving national attention for its outrageously high number of HIV cases.

The outbreak has been linked to shared needles among injection drug users, and in order to slow the outbreak, state officials began a needle exchange program in Scott County on April 4, 2015.

At that time there were 89 HIV cases.

Exactly one year later, there are 188 HIV cases.

The HIV outbreak has had the greatest impact on the city of Austin in Scott County, especially when you consider that the population of the city is just 4,225.

The high number of cases has many people asking “Why the city of Austin? Why Indiana?”

According to Indiana State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, Austin may be the first rural city to suffer from an HIV outbreak, but with intravenous drug use at an all-time high across the United States, it probably won’t be the last.

Adams says many small, rural areas are experiencing, along with drug abuse, “high unemployment, lower incomes and a lack of education.”

“Sadly, there are places in this country where the future looks bleak,” says Adams.

So what is the state doing to prevent more HIV cases and help HIV positive individuals?

In February, state officials began recommending preventive medication. “Stopping risky behaviors is the best defense against HIV, but pre-exposure prophylaxis can also help protect those still battling addiction. We strongly urge physicians to talk frankly with patients about their risks and whether medication is appropriate to help prevent infection with HIV,” said Adams.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) consists of a combination of two HIV medicines that are taken daily by mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says daily PrEP use can reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sexual contact by more than 90 percent and through injection drug use by more than 70 percent.

For those that have already been diagnosed with HIV, according to the IndyStar, there are now support and recovery programs offered in Austin that are run by people across the state. Every Friday, recovery coaches with Mental Health America of Indiana’s PEERs program (Project Empowerment Effect Recovery Services) drive from Indianapolis to Austin, and they run a recovery program at a local church.

“It’s really just about bringing hope and serenity and peace and letting them know that there’s people out here who care for them,” Michelle Steel, PEERS project coordinator, told the IndyStar.

Additionally, clinical care is being provided at Foundations Family Medicine, with the support of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and MATE.

And the needle exchange program is also still in effect in Scott County.