Pence extends needle exchange

The number of HIV cases in the southeastern Indiana outbreak has reached 129 confirmed and six preliminary positive cases, health officials reported Tuesday.

This comes after Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order extending the public health emergency in Scott County, allowing a 30-day extension of the needle exchange program there.

Scott County has seen most of the HIV cases, but Jackson, Perry, Washington and Clark counties also have been affected.

The combined 135 HIV cases is an increase from last week’s 120 confirmed cases and 10 preliminary positive cases, according to a news release.

In a typical year, Scott County would see fewer than five new cases of the virus that causes AIDS, and health officials said the outbreak is linked to injection drug abuse.

The original public health emergency was declared March 26 and was set to expire this Friday. The extension allows participants in the needle exchange program to continue to be provided with needles for a week as well as counseling for drug abuse and plastic containers for safe disposal of used needles.

Operated by the Scott County Health Department, the program also collects basic demographic information for research and statistical purposes but does not collect names.

So far, the program has had 95 visitors, 3,111 needles brought in and 4,337 provided, according to a news release.

Needles are collected at the Austin Community Outreach Center, 2277 W. Frontage Road, and at a mobile unit that is open from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, though times may vary with weather and staffing.

In addition to the needle drop-off, the center is coordinating with local partners and other state agencies to provide a one-stop shop. It provides a list of services, including HIV testing, immunizations and job referrals. So far, 534 people have used the services.

The Associated Press reported health officials are receiving help from specialists from other states in tracking down about 130 additional people who might be infected.

Deputy State Health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall said Tuesday that five disease-intervention specialists from states including Virginia, Colorado and Missouri are helping Indiana officials track down people who might have shared needles or had unprotected sex with those who have tested positive. She said their assistance is “absolutely essential” in helping contain the outbreak, according to The AP.

For local residents, HIV testing will be offered this month through Positive Link. The free service is set for 3 to 6 p.m. April 30 at Walgreens, 319 E. Tipton St., Seymour

Positive Link is a program of Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital Community Health that offers free HIV prevention and testing services as well as direct services for those infected with HIV. For information about services or to schedule an appointment, call 812-353-9150.

Take Back Scott County, a community group working to fight against drug abuse and mitigate the HIV outbreak in Scott County, conducted a syringe sweep in Austin on April 11 using 31 volunteers. Another group of 33 followed the next day with a separate sweep. In all, more than 50 syringes were found around town.

The next cleanup event is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at The Church of the New Covenant, 1054 Clay St., Austin. Volunteers will be provided a short training session.

Law enforcement encourages people not to pick up drug paraphernalia unless you have been trained and are a part of an organized event. Contact Scott County dispatch at 812-752-5550 to report the location of a needle.

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Positive Link will conduct free HIV testing from 3 to 6 p.m. April 30 at Walgreens, 319 E. Tipton St. in Seymour. To make an appointment, call 812-353-9150.

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The next Take Back Scott County sweep will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Church of the New Covenant, 1054 Clay St., Austin. For information, “like” the Take Back Scott County Facebook page.

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One-stop shop at the Austin Community Outreach Center is at 2277 W. Frontage Road, Austin.

It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Friday; and  noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call 317-605-1480.

A free shuttle service is being provided by Grace Covenant Church. For information, call 317-617-2223.