HIV epidemic in Indiana prompts governor to declare health emergency

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Credit: Ian Cuming Close up of HIV virus in bloodstream

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is declaring a public health emergency in one county due to an epidemic of HIV.

Gov. Mike Pence issued the order Thursday for Scott County, which has 79 confirmed cases of HIV since mid-December.

The county averages about five new cases a year.

“Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” Pence said in a news release.

Scott County is located about 85 miles south of Indianapolis.

All the cases in the current outbreak are linked to injection drug use, primarily of the prescription opioid opana.

The declaration requires law enforcement, emergency agencies and health officials to develop a response plan that also includes hospitals and health care providers.

A team from the CDC Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention arrived Monday and is working with local and state health officials to stop the outbreak.

Their recommendations include a short-term needle exchange program and public awareness campaign focusing on safe sex, needle disposal, addiction services, and HIV testing and treatment.

HIV can take up to three months to appear in a person’s system after they are infected. Health officials recommend people who have participated in risky behavior, such as needle sharing and unprotected sex, to be tested for HIV now and again in three months.

“I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks,” Pence said.