On National HIV Testing Day, Austin, Indiana, celebrates fewer n - WDRB 41 Louisville News

On National HIV Testing Day, Austin, Indiana, celebrates fewer new cases

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AUSTIN, Ind. (WDRB) – Tuesday was National HIV Testing Day, and an HIV epidemic that hit a small Indiana town is seeing quite a change.

In 2015, the city of Austin was in the national spotlight reporting 219 new cases of HIV, the highest of any rural area in the country. Health experts said the majority of those cases are due to IV drug use and the sharing of heroin and meth needles.

On Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered at Austin City Park for music, food and optimism.

“We would like to be known, instead of an HIV community, as a community of recovery,” said Patti Hall with the Scott County Health Department. “We’ve heard stories where they didn’t even want to stop at the restaurants along the interstate while they were traveling because there might be someone working there that had HIV, and they might get sick.”

In the past 18 months, the Scott County Health Department has seen 30 new cases of HIV, a huge decline in new cases since two years ago.

“There is just so much where we have come and just strides ahead of where we were, and we just want everyone to know their status,” Hall said.

In the spring of 2015, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency after 72 people tested positive just four months into the year.

The city’s needle exchange program was a big factor in the reduced number of HIV cases.

Rick Wilson, a pastor, country singer and recovering meth addict, personally knows the struggles the city of Austin has been experiencing. Rick and his band performed at Tuesday’s event, sharing their love for music and spreading hope.

“We want to see the numbers continue to go down, and the only way they are going to go down is if folks really understand why they’re addicted,” Wilson said.

Four new needle disposal dumpsters will soon be placed around the city to encourage more people to dispose the needles property.

For more information on HIV and AIDS-related services, click here.

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