Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rural Indiana town facing HIV epidemic; local doctor said they saw this coming, asked for help

A rural impoverished Indiana town is facing an HIV crisis. Austin, (Best Places map) home to about 4,300 residents, has had at least 81 cases of HIV infection, well above the five reported cases in a typical year, Shari Rudavsky reports for The Indianapolis Star. The epidemic forced Gov. Mike Pence last week to declare a public health emergency, allowing local authorities to begin a short-term needle-exchange program.

Pence's order, which lasts for 30 days, at which time it will be re-evaluated, "applies only to Scott County, and it remains up to local authorities there to decide whether they wish to establish such a program under the supervision of the Indiana State Department of Health," Rudavsky writes. Scott County Sheriff Dan McClain, who has 11 HIV positive inmates housed in the local jail, "said he would like to see a needle exchange program in his area, particularly one that includes testing, education and treatment for those who require it." He told Rudavsky, "I think if you're just flat out giving out needles, you're not going to do much good." (Read more)

William Cooke, the only doctor in Austin, said the high number of HIV cases is not surprising, Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. Cooke said he believes "that people addicted to injectible painkillers might be plucking used needles off lawns, shooting up—and passing them on. He told Paquette, “We saw this coming a long time ago. There’s a lot of poverty and very few resources available to the community. We’ve been asking for help for some time.”

Cooke said he has seen many cases of patients illegally using Opana, a prescription painkiller that delivers a potent high, especially when ground into water and injected into veins, Center for Disease Control investigators found. "The nearest hospital with social services and HIV testing, Cooke said, was only five miles away. But many of Austin’s drug users lacked transportation."

Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Paquette, “When you don’t have a health-care system where people have access to testing and treatment, the introduction of one infection into a community of drug users can turn into an outbreak."

To watch an MSNBC interview on the issue with Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS and STD Prevention at Indiana University, click here.

No comments: