ANDERSON – Health officials say an immunodeficiency virus outbreak in Scott County could also happen here.

“It would not be out of line to suggest that such an outbreak of hepatitis C and (or) HIV could occur in Madison County,” said Madison County Health Department STD/HIV/Hepatitis program coordinator Kellie Kelley. “There are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate public health event.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in Scott County after health officials there reported 80 new HIV cases linked to intravenous drug use. The health emergency was quickly followed on Monday by a proposal from the Indiana House Committee on Public Health to allowing Indiana counties at risk of a HIV outbreak to institute needle exchange programs.

A needle exchange program would help combat the outbreak, officials say, and reduce the number of people exposed to infection. Health officials say the recent report on the epidemic in Scott County is generating more testing for the diseases locally.

“We are certain the events in Scott County have raised concerns and awareness among at-risk populations in Madison County,” Kelley said. “We are seeing an increase in our requests for HIV testing, with patients specifically referencing their concerns about southeast Indiana.”

The health department is aware of recent legislation that cleared the House on Monday allowing for needle exchange in counties with the highest rates of hepatitis C infection. But Kelley said she was not familiar with the criteria that would enact the measure.

“This disease prevention measure is largely untested in Indiana until recently,” she said. “Since needle exchange as a disease prevention option has never been available in Indiana, we are uncertain what it could allow our local community to do. We would work closely with the Indiana State Department of Health and our local governing bodies to determine what would best serve Madison County.”

Kelley said Madison County has never been notified that it is at a threshold or meets criteria for a public health emergency related to hepatitis C cases. She said public health emergencies are enacted when a certain number of acute or new infections of a communicable disease occur, but definitions are different for each reportable infection.

An in-depth report on case data in Madison County is being compiled to illustrate the local increase, Kelley said. She also plans to include information from the Indiana National Surveillance System. The report will be submitted at the quarterly Madison County Health Board meeting at 8 a.m. April 8.

"We are all very hopeful that the measures taken in Scott County will begin to slow the infection rates of HIV in that area,” Kelley said.

She said it is important for the health department to remain diligent when it comes to hepatitis C and HIV rates.

Those at risk are urged to get annual HIV and sexually transmitted disease screenings, she said, and take steps to reduce one’s exposure to blood and sexual fluids of others. Kelley also said information is available for people seeking treatment for substance abuse.

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