OFFICIALS: HIV outbreak in southern Indiana now an epidemic - WDRB 41 Louisville News

OFFICIALS: HIV outbreak in southern Indiana now an epidemic

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SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (WDRB) -- Officials are now calling the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana an epidemic.

As of March 25, there were 72 confirmed cases of HIV and even more preliminary positives in southern Indiana, and the majority of the cases are tied to Scott County.

Gov. Mike Pence along with other state and local officials met Wednesday afternoon to coordinate their response. Pence pointed out this is not just a Scott County problem -- it is an Indiana problem. 

"We have an epidemic in an outbreak of the HIV virus," Pence said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams says if this problem is not solved in Scott County it will spread to surrounding areas and the entire state.The majority of the cases have been linked to intravenous drug users. 

"Right now, we have an estimated between 70 to 100 potential individuals that we need to track at this point," state epidemiologist Pam Pontones said. 

The CDC came into town this week to help respond to this problem; Gov. Pence says he met with officials from the federal agency Monday. That's when he was told this HIV outbreak is an epidemic.

"Since that time our administration has been evaluating options, both with regard to resources and additional flexibility, to permit health officials and law enforcement officials, and all those agencies that are impacted by this epidemic to address it in a more effective way," Pence said. "Tomorrow morning I will sign an Executive Order declaring a public health emergency in Scott County."

The governor did not offer more specific information about what the public health emergency will entail.

He was also asked about starting a needle exchange program, which some local doctors say could help contain the spread.

"I will tell you that I don't support needle exchanges as anti drug policy, but this is a public health emergency," Pence said. "To anyone in the sound of my voice who is involved in intravenous drug use: stop. Your life is at stake."

Gov. Pence says state officials will hammer out the details of that public health emergency order later tonight, and he will use information from this afternoon's meeting to decide what actions are necessary.

"If we don't get it solved down here in Scott County, it's going to spread to the surrounding counties," Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said. "It's going to spread to the entire state."

Pence says the emergency order will remain in effect for 30 days and he will announce his full plan Thursday morning.


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