Indiana governor declares public health emergency to stem HIV outbreak

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HIV Outbreak Prompts Public Health Emergency in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence authorized a short-term needle-exchange program and other steps Thursday to help contain the spread of HIV in a county tied to 79 new infections since January, all of them linked to intravenous drug use.

Pence issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in Scott County, about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. He ordered the state health department to set up a command center to coordinate HIV and substance-abuse treatment and establish a mobile unit to enroll people in a state-run health program.

Most of the infections involve people who shared a syringe while injecting a liquid form of the prescription painkiller Opana, according to state epidemiologist Pam Pontones.

Indiana law normally forbids needle-exchange programs, which allow people to turn in used hypodermic needles and get clean ones in an effort to keep diseases such as HIV and hepatitis from spreading. Pence says he opposes them as part of anti-drug policy.

But the governor said he agreed to a limited exchange in Scott County because of the emergency nature of the infections. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended a needle-exchange program because all of the HIV cases have now been linked to IV drug use.

In addition, the state has launched a public-awareness campaign to focus on drug treatment, infection prevention, safe sex, needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment.

"This is all hands on deck. This is a very serious situation," Pence said Thursday at a news conference.

Pence's executive order will run for 30 days, at which time he will consider whether to extend it for another 30-day period.

All of those infected either live in Scott County or have ties to the county.

The number of cases tied to the county is up from 26 a month ago and is expected to continue to climb. Health officials said Wednesday that they were trying to contact as many as 100 people tied to those with confirmed infections of the virus that causes AIDS.

The county typically sees about five HIV cases each year, health officials said this week.

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Indiana governor declares public health emergency to stem HIV outbreak
FILE - In this April 21, 2015 file photo, new needles which clients can get as part of the needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center are displayed in Austin, Ind. Indiana's health commissioner approved a one-year needle-exchange program Thursday, May 21, 2015, for a rural county at the center of the state's largest HIV outbreak, an epidemic that's being driven by needle-sharing among intravenous drug users. The southeastern Indiana county had been operating a temporary needle-exchange under an executive order signed by Gov. Mike Pence that will expire Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
FILE - In this April 21, 2015 file photo, signs are displayed for the needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center in Austin, Ind. Indiana's health commissioner approved a one-year needle-exchange program Thursday, May 21, 2015, for a rural county at the center of the state's largest HIV outbreak, an epidemic that's being driven by needle-sharing among intravenous drug users. The southeastern Indiana county had been operating a temporary needle-exchange under an executive order signed by Gov. Mike Pence that will expire Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Stickers are given to clients after they get tested for HIV at the One-Stop Shop at the Austin Community Outreach Center, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Austin, Ind. Indiana health officials trying to contain an HIV outbreak tied to needle-sharing among drug users are getting helping from specialists from other states in tracking down about 130 additional people who also may be infected. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Information brochures are on display inside of Austin Community Outreach Center, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Austin, Ind. The center offer One-Stop Shop HIV testing and a needle exchange program. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana's deputy state health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall speaks Wednesday, June 17, 2015, during a news conference with State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams on an HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana. Adams and Walthall announced that a community outreach center in Austin, the Scott County city that's the outbreak's epicenter, will close next week and reopen at another location that will remain in operation for at least one year. Indiana's outbreak tied to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users has 169 confirmed HIV cases and one preliminary positive case. (AP Photo/Rick Callahan)
Signs are posted for the Austin Community Outreach Center, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Austin, Ind. Indiana health officials trying to contain an HIV outbreak tied to needle-sharing among drug users are getting helping from specialists from other states in tracking down about 130 additional people who also may be infected. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responds to a question during a news conference Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind. Pence held a news conference after meeting with local officials in Scott County about an HIV outbreak. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence meets with local officials in Scott County to discuss an HIV outbreak in the area, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind. Pence is preparing to declare a public health emergency in the southern Indiana county where 72 cases of HIV have been confirmed. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
FILE - In this Thursday, July 5, 2012 file photo, people visit the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington. Comparisons between Ebola and AIDS have surfaced in mid-2014 as the Ebola outbreak escalated. But Ebola is not expected to ever be in the same league as AIDS in terms of infections and deaths, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holds up a syringe, hand towel and citric acid sachet at a needle exchange facility, with nursing staff member Christina Antoniadi, in the background, in central Athens, on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. Drug experts and policy makers from around Europe are gathering in Athens to urge their governments to exclude drug treatment from economic austerity programs, citing an alarming rise in HIV infections among drug users in Greece. The number of reported new infections among drug users in Greece shot up from 22 in 2010 to 245 in 2011, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Experts blame the rise on a number of factors, several related to Greece's major financial crisis. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this photograph taken on November 3, 2011 a heroin drug user prepares a syringe at a park in Medan city in Sumatra island. Cordia-Caritas Medan, a non-government organization, focus rehabilitation efforts on heroin drug users thru their needle exchange and recovery program in Medan as part of its anti-HIV/AIDS campaign in Indonesia where the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection comes from injecting drug users. The latest National AIDS Commission report estimated that there were 227,700 people living with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia in 2007, a figure it said would double to 501,400 by 2014 making the AIDS epidemic in the country one of the fastest growing in Asia. AFP PHOTO / SUTANTA ADITYA (Photo credit should read SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images)
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