HIV outbreak discovered in region

Jackson County is one of five counties in southern Indiana included in an HIV outbreak primarily related to intravenous drug use.

State health officials announced Wednesday there have been 26 confirmed and four preliminary HIV-positive cases in this region since mid-December. A large number of those cases have come from Austin in Scott County, the state reported. Other cases have been reported in Clark, Perry and Washington counties.

The exact number of cases in each county is not being released due to privacy issues, an Indiana State Department of Health spokeswoman said Thursday morning.

About five of those infected are prostitutes, and just under 10 others are inmates in local jails or prisons, the state reported. Those infected range in age from 20 to 56, but most are in their mid-30s.

Indiana sees about 500 new HIV cases annually, and as of early 2013, nearly 11,000 residents had either HIV or AIDS, according to state statistics.

Most of the new cases are linked through injection drug abuse of the prescription drug Opana, an opioid painkiller more powerful than Oxycontin, officials said. A small number of cases have been from sexual transmission.

Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said Opana has been a problem in Seymour in the past, but he hasn’t seen too much of it lately. News of the outbreak, however, doesn’t surprise him.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen a major increase in the number of people using needles, whether it’s for Opana or heroin or something else,” he said. “It’s become pretty regular.”

People who are addicted don’t care how they get that high, just that they get it, he said, which increases the rate of shared needle use and prostitution.

As for keeping his officers safe when responding to calls, Abbott said universal precautions, such as using gloves and masks, are employed when dealing with bodily fluids.

“We already deal with tuberculosis and hepatitis and have dealt with active cases where we have had to have our officers checked afterwards,” he said of blood-borne communicable diseases.

Lin Montgomery with the Jackson County Health Department said because HIV is not a communicable disease that has to be reported, it’s difficult to know how big of an issue it is locally.

“We don’t have a really good grasp of the population that could be at risk or those who are living with it,” she said.

HIV is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions.

The average person who doesn’t use needles and isn’t participating in other risky behaviors, such as having sex with multiple partners and having unprotected sex, isn’t considered at-risk for contracting HIV.

“They don’t really have to worry,” Montgomery said.

The only way to determine if someone is HIV-positive is to be tested, she added. The health department is recommending anyone who has used Opana or any drug intravenously and has shared needles or who has had sexual intercourse with someone who does to get tested immediately.

They will have to go elsewhere for that testing, though, she added.

“We don’t have a lab here that tests for HIV,” she said. “We have to refer people to Clark County or Bartholomew County for testing.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky offers confidential HIV testing at its Seymour Health Center at 357 Tanger Blvd., Suite 302. Only returning patients or those making an initial appointment for services are eligible to be tested, however.

Testing services are available for men and women. Cost for the test is on a sliding fee scale and is based on family size and income.

The agency also has an office in Columbus that is not state-funded, and therefore, anyone can walk in and be tested. That office is located at 3200 Sycamore Court, Suite 2C.

Tammy Lieber, director of communications for Planned Parenthood, said the test is done by mouth swab and results take just 20 to 40 minutes.

“It’s quick, easy and painless, and you have results back almost instantly. They’ve come a long way in HIV testing,” Lieber said. “It’s one of our most used services.”

People can make appointments at any Planned Parenthood clinic online at or by calling 800-230-7526.

Over-the-counter tests also are available at some pharmacies.

Health departments, police, hospitals and others are working to get the word out about the outbreak and how people can get help.

“We are doing what we can by using social media, putting articles in the media and just word of mouth,” Montgomery said.

She said she plans to prepare a fact sheet and would be speaking publicly to groups and at meetings about the issue.

“We need to be getting good, accurate information out to people,” she said.

The state health department is working closely with local officials and health care providers to help contain the spread of the disease. Disease intervention specialists are interviewing those who have tested positive in the area to obtain information about who they could have infected by sharing needles or having sex.

“It’s very concerning to me that most of the individuals who have tested HIV-positive have only recently contracted the virus,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams. “Because prescription drug abuse is at the heart of this outbreak, we are not only working to identify, contact and test individuals who may be been exposed, but also to connect community members to resources for substance abuse treatment and recovery.”

State health officials recommend that all Hoosiers know their HIV status by getting tested. Those who have engaged in high-risk behaviors are advised to get tested and re-tested after about two to three months because HIV can take up to three months to appear in a person’s system.

For HIV testing locations and information about HIV care coordination, call the state health department’s HIV services hotline at 866-588-4948.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

For HIV testing locations and information about HIV care coordination, call the state health department’s HIV services hotline at 866-588-4948.

To make an appointment at any Planned Parenthood clinic online, visit or call 1-800-230-PLAN.

Hoosiers who do not have health care coverage or access to a doctor can check availability for the new Healthy Indiana Plan — HIP 2.0 — by visiting or calling 1-877-GET-HIP9.

Individuals seeking help with substance abuse can call the national 24-hour addiction hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.