Scott County doctor: Clean needle exchange program could help re - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Scott County doctor: Clean needle exchange program could help reduce spread of HIV

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SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (WDRB) - The number of confirmed HIV cases in southern Indiana is now up to 55. Federal health officials will begin working in the area this week. At the same time, a local doctor is pushing for a change in state law he believes could help contain the spread. 

"We have been doing a lot of testing here in the office," said Scott County Public Health Nurse Brittany Combs. 

Health officials only expect the number of HIV positive cases to grow. 

"Right now we have 75 to 100 contacts that we're trying to track down," Combs said. 

The CDC is stepping in to help. Disease Intervention Specialists and what's called an "Epi-Aid" team are expected to start this week. 

Combs says that team includes epidemiologists that will help find out more about the disease, how it spread and how their community should deal with the problem. 

Combs says those federal officials will work out of a doctor's office in Austin. She says the majority of the HIV positive cases have been linked to that area and to people sharing needles while using the painkiller Opana. 

"With our current number of cases, the prevalence up in Austin is about 1.7 percent," said Dr. Shane Avery.

Dr. Shane Avery is a family physician in Scott County. 

In the wake of the outbreak, he's written to state lawmakers about setting up an emergency needle exchange program. It would make accessing clean needles easier. 

He says right now, it's illegal to possess a syringe in Indiana without a prescription. 

"If we can get clean needles on the street immediately, as of tomorrow, we could offer individuals a way to help reduce the spread of this," Avery said. 

According to Dr. Avery's letter, the American Medical Association endorses needle exchange programs as a way to keep dirty needles off the streets, reduce the number of people infected and bring people into treatment. 

The Scott County Health Department says its been in contact with New York health officials about how it would work, since a needle exchange is allowed in that state. 

"I used to be against them myself because I didn't understand them," Combs said about clean needle exchange programs. "But now I've researched them ... and there's 25 years of research that says that it actually works, it stops the spread of disease, it gets the dirty needles off the street." 

Dr. Avery says he will be in Indianapolis on Wednesday to testify about starting a clean needle exchange program in front of the General Assembly. 

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