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City-County Council OKs syringe exchange program to curb hepatitis C

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night unanimously approved a syringe exchange program for Marion County after a surge in hepatitis C cases. 

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, joined others at a news conference May 17 to announce they would seek the syringe exchange. She cited a 1,000 percent increase in cases of hepatitis C from 2013 to 2017. Marion County averages less than five cases a year, but Caine said 72 cases were confirmed last year and many more cases likely were undiagnosed. 

Caine called it a public health epidemic. 

“Hepatitis is primarily through the spread of contaminated needles, sharing of needles or contaminated blood,” she said in May. “It’s not the only answer, but it’s a critical tool.” 

The program would include HIV and hepatitis C screenings, referrals to mental health and drug addiction treatment, and education literature.  

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus. It can lead to liver failure and liver cancer and can be deadly.