Scott County sees no new HIV cases in 3 straight months, sparking renewal of needle exchange

AUSTIN, Ind. (WDRB) -- At a time when the area is seeing a major decrease in new HIV cases, the Scott County Needle Exchange Program has been approved for another year.

After a large number of HIV cases in Austin over the last few years, there have been no new cases in three straight months.

“That tells us the needle exchange is working” said Scott County Health Department Preparedness Coordinator Patti Hall.

It's a drastic step in the right direction. At the start of the exchange two years ago, the number of HIV cases soared to more than 80 in Austin as a result of sharing needles for drug use.

“When it was doubling and quadrupling every two or three weeks, the numbers would go up," Hall said. "That's something to know that we've gone for a while without any new cases."

Hall plans to continue that success. On Wednesday morning, county commissioners voted and approved the needle exchange for another year.

Every week, the needle exchange program sees between 50 and 70 people struggling with addiction.

“We're very excited to be able to help them and to offer them even a glimmer of hope,” Hall said.

Every two weeks, they collect four to six larger containers full of used needles from the exchange and community pick-ups. But Hall says it's so much more than just an exchange.

“Providing the chance for others to get in to rehab, follow up with other services, get their insurance, get their birth certificates, care coordination if they need that if they are HIV positive ... There's just so much more we can continue to do,” she said.

With assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, small town Austin has now become the poster child of the epidemic throughout the country.

“Other states, other communities, are asking them how we did it," Hall said. "...They want to model their cases after us so they can have some of the same success stories,” Hall said.

This Friday, there will be a needle cleanup and training session in Scott County. Training and lunch starts at 11:30 a.m. The clean-up will last from 1-4 p.m.

If you’d like to help, contact the Scott County Health Department at 812-752-8455.

Related Stories:

Austin, Ind. holds first ever World AIDS Day event amid HIV epidemic

Driven by dirty needles, southern Ind. HIV epidemic putting city workers at risk

Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.