(INDIANAPOLIS) There are staggering new numbers of a growing HIV outbreak in Southern Indiana. State health officials have announced there are now 55 confirmed cases, with the potential for that number to grow.
This is the largest single HIV outbreak in the history of Indiana. State lawmakers are calling the event a crisis, and a small town has now been consumed by the disease.
If you follow the rumble of the trucks 80 miles south on I-65 running through downtown Indy, you’ll hit the tiny town of Austin, in Scott County Indiana. It is the epicenter, according to state health officials, of Indiana’s largest HIV outbreak ever.
“When one person’s health is at risk, everyone’s health is at risk,” said State Representative and House Minority Leader, Scott Pelath (D – Michigan City).
There are now 55 confirmed cases there, with that number likely to grow. The total, health officials say, is linked to drug users sharing infected needles, and unprotected sex with prostitutes.
State officials are calling for immediate action, “I would encourage the department of health to set aside political talking points; set aside the innate prejudices of some folks really focus in on keeping people alive,” said Pelath.
“There’s growing concern about this outbreak and how far it might go, both in terms of number of cases and geographic spread,” said State Representative and Chair of the House Public Health Committee, Ed Clere (R – New Albany).
Austin, Indiana is located right on the i65 corridor. Consequently, there is concern that the cases there could be transmitted to transients, traveling through to Indianapolis.
“It’s a public health crisis, there’s no question,” said Clere, “I expect one of the things that we’re going to do is talk about the potential for facilitating a needle exchange.”
State health officials are doing what they can by dispatching HIV testers and making sure those infected know their status. But a needle exchange would be the next step; providing clean needles to drug users. But it is illegal in Indiana to use needles for anything other than prescription drug use, making a needle exchange unlikely.
“Everybody needs to be aware of how HIV is transmitted and to be aware of their status,” siad Jeremey Turner, the Director of Supportive Services at the HIV help and prevention organization, the Damien Center in Indianapolis.
Turner insists the number one prevention of spreading HIV is testing. Knowing your status he says can prevent the spread.
“Everyone knowing their status so they can help address the issue if they personally have HIV and then know how to stay negative if they get a negative test result,” said Turner.
Indiana typically will have around 500 new HIV cases per year. Of those, five will typically be from Scott County.