American HIV outbreak deemed public health disaster

A small Indiana country has seen a spike in HIV cases in the past four months.

Since December, the small southern town has seen a large increase in HIV cases directly tied to intravenous drug use.

Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, is calling it a public health disaster.

Pence spoke to reporters after meeting with county officials and representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“This is a public health emergency,” Pence said of the declaration for rural Scott County, located about 35 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. “Now I’m evaluating all of the issues and all of the tools that may be available to local health officials in light of a public health emergency.”

In the past four months, Scott County has had 72 confirmed cases of HIV and seven preliminary cases. Officials fear that as many as 100 cases could be confirmed.

In previous years, Scott County reported about five new cases of HIV each year. In 2014, for example, the country had only 21 HIV cases.

Although HIV is considered by most as sexually transmitted virus, the Scott County epidemic is a bit unique in that local cases have been linked to intravenous drug use.

Those infected were injecting themselves with a potent painkiller, Opana, which contains oxymorphone. People were also becoming infected after injecting other drugs like methamphetamine.

While Pense says he does not believe a needle exchange program is an effective anti-drug policy, the Republican does agree that it should be under consideration as a way to prevent the spread of HIV.

A mobile command center is being set up with other state resources to help with follow-up contacts for the diagnosed. Officials are urging those battling drug abuse and those infected with HIV to take advantage of the resources.

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