TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) — The number of people HIV positive in southern Indiana continues to rise at an alarming rate. There are currently 166 confirmed cases.
The situation unraveling in Scott County, Indiana, has been declared a public health emergency.
Vigo County health officials are trying to learn from the HIV outbreak in hopes of being proactive and lower the number of HIV cases in the Wabash Valley.
“We’ve had issues high numbers with Hepatitis C and HIV for quite a while,” said Joni Wise, with the Vigo County Health Department.
The Vigo County Health Department is looking into a needle exchange program to combat HIV and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a disease that often goes hand in hand with HIV because it can be transmitted the same way.
A needle exchange program works by providing drug users with clean needles in exchange for used ones.
“Hopefully with the intent that they will use a clean needle and not share that needle with others,” said Wise.
State Senator Jon Ford (R-District 38) reached out to the department in April asking what the plan was if an outbreak occurred in Vigo County.
Wise said she discussed the possibility of a needle exchange program with the county’s health officer.
Eleven new cases of HIV were reported in Vigo County in 2014. The number of people living in the county with HIV is currently at 274. As of December 2013 there were 126 chronic and acute Hepatitis C cases in Vigo County, that’s according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
“Vigo County has had a lot of illegal drug use that has increased our crime rate, and also contributes to the HIV and Hepatitis rate,” explained Wise.
Governor Mike Pence signed legislation last month allowing the programs in counties where a public health emergency has been declared. That program began on May 25th and will last one year.
The spread of the virus is tapering off, with only a few new cases being reported in the past two weeks.
Discussion of a needle exchange program in Vigo County are still in the early stages. There are still a lot of questions that have to be answered before an exchange could be implemented in Vigo County.
“Going about exchanging a program hasn’t been firmed up, and hasn’t been discussed to firm up, but it is always a possibility for a strategy,” said Wise.
In the meantime, The Vigo County Health Department is partnering with IU Health to offer free HIV and Hepatitis C testing.
“It’s an absolute necessity for us to look at what we have been doing and what we could be doing better,” said Wise.
The testing will be offered at the clinic at the Health Department. Exact dates and times have not been determined. We will continue to bring you more information as it becomes available.