With an HIV outbreak growing, Indiana is on the verge of enforcing a needle-exchange program as Gov. Mike Pence prepares to declare a public health emergency in the heavily affected county in the state.
Pence actually opposes needle-exchange programs but, with the situation dire, is considering all options presented by the state's health department to come up with the best means of halting the outbreak sweeping Scott County in the southern portion of Indiana.
So far, 72 HIV cases were confirmed by health officials while there are seven others exhibiting preliminary positive infections. All those that have been infected were either residents of the county or are connected to it. Typically, however, Scott County only sees five cases of HIV per year.
Actions to be taken by the state will be outlined in the executive order Pence will be issuing. He said that he is basing his decision on the best means possible to stop the virus and keep the HIV outbreak from spreading further.
When the outbreak was first announced last month, there were only 26 cases. Health officials are working to get in touch with up to 100 individuals associated with confirmed cases of HIV. IV drug use has been singled out as the mode of infection in almost all cases, which is why a needle-exchange program is in the spotlight.
"With the amount of drug use that's happening and the intravenous needle-sharing that's going on, if someone who's highly infectious becomes part of that sharing network, that infection can transmit very rapidly," explained Pam Pontones, a state epidemiologist.
She added that most of the people who have been infected had shared a syringe with someone while shooting a liquid of Opana, a prescription pain killer.
In a needle-exchange program, people can receive clean needles by turning in used ones. This lessens infected needles in circulation that's why it is considered as a method to prevent diseases like hepatitis and HIV from spreading. It is actually illegal in Indiana but if a measure is approved, the program will be allowed with limitations.
In the United States, over 1.2 million individuals are living with HIV. However, almost 14 percent of this number doesn't know that they are infected and may be unknowingly passing on the virus to others. Out of every four new HIV infections, one occurs within the 13 to 24 age group.
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