Scott County health officials say needle exchange program is wor - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Scott County health officials say needle exchange program is working

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Health officials say the program was put into place because of an HIV epidemic that, thus far, has infected 106 people. Health officials say the program was put into place because of an HIV epidemic that, thus far, has infected 106 people.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Scott County health officials say a new needle exchange program created in response to the HIV epidemic is working. 

State and local officials held a press conference Tuesday morning to give an update on the efforts to contain the outbreak and get people the help they need.

Health officials say 106 people have tested positive for HIV and that number is expected to keep getting higher. 

"She said, 'Thank you for helping me.' She said, 'I'm gonna be clean,'" said Scott County Public Health Nurse Brittany Combs. 

She says those comments came from someone who's been using the needle exchange program. Officials aren't just trading out syringes, they're also giving substance abuse treatment referrals. 

"It's just the one-on-one faces we've seen and people that we've helped that has been the most important part," she went on. 

Combs says 43 people are using the exchange now, which is up from just four last week. She says more than 1,500 clean needles have been distributed and 580 dirty ones turned in. 

The program also just became mobile. 

"We stopped at one house," Combs said. "We did four people in that home and they all disclosed that they were HIV negative. They had been recently tested and were negative and they all four got clean needles to last the week. So if nothing else, we have saved those four people for this week from having to share needles to possibly get HIV." 

But the program may not last much longer. Governor Pence's public health emergency only lasts 30 days. Officials say it ends on April 25. 

"We try not to think about that. We're just getting as much done as we possibly can in the amount of time that we have," Combs said. 

She'd like to keep the services going but officials don't know if the needle exchange program will be extended. 

"We will evaluate how it's done as part of this comprehensive package and present those recommendations and findings to the governor's office," said Indiana Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Jennifer Walthall.  

State health officials say resources will stay in Scott County even if the needle exchange program doesn't. 

Officials say it's still not clear how many people may be affected by the epidemic. 

"I'm not sure where the limits of this are yet," Walthall said. "I'm hoping that will be very soon." 

Walthall says the HIV cases are still centered in Scott County but officials are trying to track down contacts in the five surrounding counties.

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