HIV outbreak causes local concern, but unlikely here

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The numbers in the Scott County HIV outbreak continue to rise, but some local health leaders said Friday it would be a surprise to see a similar outbreak in northeast Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Health announced Friday that the number of HIV cases in southeastern Indiana had reached 106, with 95 cases confirmed and an additional 11 cases with preliminary positive results. Those 11 people will face a second test to confirm if they indeed infected with HIV or not.

“The fact that we now have more than 100 cases of HIV related to this outbreak speaks to the urgent need to raise awareness about injection drug use and its connection to HIV,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. in a news release issued Friday.

The majority of the cases come from Scott County, and the Associated Press reported that every cases comes from Scott County or have ties to the rural county.

“Anytime there’s an HIV infection outbreak like that you don’t know when it’s going to end and what’s going to happen, sure,” said Jeff Markley, the executive director at Positive Resource Center. “This particular outbreak is somewhat unprecedented actually, to have this kind of rise in this kind of location.”

Leaders at the Positive Resource Center, which recently changed its name from the AIDS Task Force, have been following the Scott County situation closely.

“I would be very surprised if this happened here,” Kandace Kelly, Director of Outreach Services at Positive Resource Center, said. “Are we going to see people become positive? Yes, but not those kinds of numbers.”

Kelly said she thought what separates Scott County from the 11-county region her organization covers was the number of prevention programs.

“We go where they’re at, they don’t come here, so if we’re at a jail or treatment center we’re testing them where they’re at,” Kelly said.  “It’s very convenient testing its a 20 minute rapid test.  They get the results in 20 minutes.

“We are educating people. We are in the drug and alcohol treatment centers and probation departments. We’re giving them information on how to be safe and not get HIV, whether its by sharing needles or having sex.”

State, local and federal officials are working to provide a comprehensive response to the outbreak, which in includes the establishment of a One-Stop Shop for services, a weekly HIV testing and treatment clinic, a needle exchange program and a public awareness campaign called You Are Not Alone.

The Scott County needle exchange program began April 4 and is located at the Austin Community Outreach Center.  An Executive Order issued by Governor Pence temporarily suspends the Indiana Code on needle exchange within Scott County. The Executive Order and needle exchange program expire April 25, but will be evaluated at the end of that period to determine if they should be continued.

The needle exchange program is for Scott County residents only and allows participating individuals to receive enough needles for one week based on reported drug use. Participants are asked to bring their used needles to exchange for clean ones. The needle exchange presents an opportunity for health representatives to provide information about substance abuse treatment, as well as information on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. It also allows for proper disposal of used needles, which can prevent accidental needle-stick hazards.

As of 3 p.m. on April 9, 437 syringes had been turned in and 1,151 syringes had been distributed. A grassroots organization called Take Back Scott County has organized a Community Cleanup Day on Saturday, April 11. Volunteers will be trained by the local Emergency Management Agency and will take to the streets to clean up used syringes. All volunteers will be equipped with proper safety equipment and sharps containers.

Allen County-Fort Wayne Health Department’s response to HIV outbreak.

“This to us is a health issue, it’s not a moral or religious issue,” said Kelly.  “People are out there and doing this behaviors, ideally we would like them to not engage in these unsafe behaviors, but they are.  So we’re trying to give them the skills they need so they don’t end up with HIV or viral hepatitis – Hepatitis C.”

The Positive Resource Center offers free HIV testing. Click here for more testing information.

A drug called Truvada is available to help reduce the risk of contracting HIV, but people at the Positive Resource Center said the drug is more effective at preventing HIV through sexual activity, rather than sharing needles.

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The Indiana Department of Health provided information for this story.

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