Twenty-four new HIV cases have been reported last week in Indiana, adding up to the already big number of cases. 130 HIV cases were registered on Friday – including 10 preliminary positive ones, but health officials, who declared an epidemic, said there may be more. This makes it the largest HIV outbreak in the history of the state.
The area with most cases is Scott County, particularly Austin, which is a small town of about 4200 inhabitants, situated 35 miles north Louisville, Ky. Mostly, the outbreak occurred among intravenous drug users from Scott County and it involves the use of Opana, a very strong painkiller. Investigators have not established yet where the drug is coming from. One thing is for sure – Scott County doctors have not prescribed such medicine. An explanation for the spread of HIV is that one pill of Opana, which is sold on the streets for $160, is the equivalent of eight injections once it is liquefied. Therefore, people share it and are more likely to contact the virus. Opiate abuse is seen as a huge problem in most communities and is one of the causes for many such outbreaks.
Due to this spread of the virus, Governor Mike Pence declared health emergency in the area last month and started a one-month needle exchange program on March 26, which is not permitted in Indiana otherwise. 5.300 sterile syringes have been distributed to 86 people so far and 1.400 used ones have been collected. They have also operated a mobile needle-exchange unit, taking into account that many drug users don’t have the courage to visit the facility. However, they have nothing to fear because those attending the program get a card that protects them from being arrested or prosecuted, even given the fact that possessing a syringe unlawfully is a Class D felony. The growing number of people infected with the virus might prompt Gov. Pence to extend his 30-days program. A decision is expected to be made next week about it. However, Pence stated that he does not agree with promoting needle exchanges as an anti-drug policy. Although it was agreed that this is a good short-term solution, it is unlikely that current legislation will change regarding needle exchange.
Patients diagnosed with HIV are also tested for Hepatitis C and placed on a medication program. More than 50% of people with Hepatitis C are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lifetime treatment for HIV costs on average more than $300.000.
State officials said they are not surprised by the sudden outbreak in Austin because they had been dealing with this situation for years.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a lentivirus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is a condition that leads to the failure of human immune system. Thus, it enables the development of cancer or infections that might lead to the person’s death in about 10 years if no treatment is taken. The virus can be spread through the exchange of blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.
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