“We cannot afford to wait”

The number of HIV cases in southeast Indiana — including Jackson County — has continued to grow, and one local state representative is concerned the situation is beginning to border on epidemic.

State Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, asked Gov. Mike Pence on Friday to commit more resources to checking the outbreak of the virus.

“To me, this is bordering on an epidemic, and although I know that officials for the Indiana (State) Department of Health already are on the scene, I visited the governor’s office to express my deep concern that more needs to be done to address this matter,” Goodin said in a news release.

Goodin, who also is superintendent of Crothersville Community Schools, said he went to the governor to see what can be done to move the process along in a timelier fashion.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” he said.

On Friday, state officials reported there have been a total of 55 confirmed cases of HIV and 13 additional preliminary positive cases, up from the 44 confirmed cases reported about two weeks ago.

The health department first reported the outbreak in late February, when it confirmed 26 cases during the previous two months in five counties — Jackson, Clark, Perry, Scott and Washington.

All of the current cases are limited to those counties. There were 405 cases of HIV diagnosed in Indiana in 2012, The Associated Press reported.

Health officials said the new cases are linked to injection drug abuse of the prescription opioid painkiller, Opana, with some individuals also reporting sexual intercourse as a possible mode of transmission.

On Friday, State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams released a statement saying the state has requested a medical team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help with following up on contacts of HIV-positive individuals and analyzing data.

The team, scheduled to arrive in Scott County today, consists of two medical doctors and an epidemiologist.

“We are engaging local, state and national partners to determine where we can most effectively focus our efforts,” Adams said in a news release. “Extra care is being taken to invest resources in getting people off drugs and into treatment since drug abuse is the clear driving force behind this outbreak.”

Other efforts include the creation of a public awareness campaign created specifically in response to the outbreak, called “You Are Not Alone,” which focuses on drug abuse, safe sex, needle disposal, and HIV testing and treatment.

The campaign, which is centered in southeastern Indiana counties, will include digital and social media ads, billboards along the Interstate 65 corridor, radio spots and will be featured in some newspapers.

Social media ads began Friday with the rest of the campaign rolling out during the next two weeks and lasting three months.

Health officials said all Hoosiers should know their HIV status. Individuals in the southeastern portion of the state, especially those who have engaged in high-risk behavior, such as needle sharing and unprotected sex, are advised to get tested and then retested after about two to three months because HIV can take up to three months to appear in a person’s system.

To help reduce risk of HIV infection, health officials say to avoid:

injection drug use;

sharing or re-using needles;

engaging in unprotected sex; and

engaging in sex with commercial sex workers.

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For HIV testing locations and information about HIV Care Coordination, call the Indiana State Department of Health HIV Services Hotline at 866-588-4948.

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