Since January 2015, Indiana’s Scott County has confirmed 79 new HIV infections and last week Gov. Mike Pence declared the rise in infections a “public health emergency,” reports the local CBS 12 News affiliate.
Scott County, located about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, only has an estimated 24,000 residents.
After a meeting with Scottsburg officials last Wednesday, Pence stated, “This is a public health emergency and I’m listening to my health department, I’m listening to the Centers for Disease Control and I’ll make my decision based on the best science and the best way we can stop this virus and stop this outbreak in its tracks.”
According to the CBS report, health officials believe most of the cases are due to illegal drug use and needle sharing. Gov. Pence opposes needle-exchange programs – which allow people to turn in used needles for clean ones – but in the interim has forgone the state’s current ban to create a temporary needle exchange program to help slow the rates of infection that are expected to rise.
Although drug use is rampant, it may not be the only reason for the current spike. The Huffington Post reported today that Scott County hasn’t had an HIV testing center since 2013 after a Planned Parenthood clinic was forced to shut down.
Many are calling the current state of affairs an “outbreak,” however, some find this inflammatory. Long-time HIV/AIDS activist, Hydeia Broadbent, posted to her Facebook page over the weekend:
Am I the only one offended by the news title out of Indiana “HIV Outbreak”? I’m sorry but HIV is not like the measles, is something you have to acquire. It’s not like walking in a room and being exposed.
What you have is a rise in HIV infections in your community. That title, this does not help us combat stigma.
Indiana has launched an aggressive public awareness campaign that focuses on safe sex, HIV testing and drug treatment.
In the U.S., Atlanta ranks No. 1 for the rate of new HIV diagnosis, according to the Atlanta Daily World. An average of two to three people have been diagnosed with HIV every day at Grady Hospital since 2013.