Rural Indiana HIV outbreak spreads to more than 100 cases

95 confirmed and 11 preliminary cases of HIV now reported in Austin, Ind., area

Health officials say that more than 100 people in southeastern Indiana have tested positive for HIV, an expansion of an outbreak that caused the state to declare a health emergency last month.

Health officials had said they expected the number of HIV cases in Scott County, about 30 miles north of Louisville, Ky., to rise ever since they discovered the problem. The spread of the virus, which causes AIDS, has been linked to the use of contaminated syringes and the painkiller Opana in the area.

Almost all of the confirmed HIV cases have been from Austin, a rural city of about 4,200 people.

“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,” State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams said in a statement.

The state declared an emergency after health officials reported more than 70 HIV-positive tests since December, far more than the five cases typically found in Scott County each year. There have now been 106 HIV-positive tests related to the outbreak, including 95 confirmed and 11 preliminary cases. 

Republican Gov. Mike Pence authorized a short-term needle exchange to fight the spread of HIV last month, an exception to the state’s conservative anti-drug policy barring programs that trade dirty needles for clean ones.

The needle-exchange program, which is only for Scott County residents, gives out enough needles for one week based on reported drug use.

A total of 437 syringes were turned in and 1,151 syringes were distributed by Thursday afternoon, the state’s health department said.

The state also established a public awareness program to provide information on safe sex and needle disposal, as well as a hotline to sign up for HIV testing and treatment. 

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