Monday, June 01, 2015

Another rural Indiana county facing a health crisis; hepatitis C epidemic hits Fayette County

Officials in a poor, rural Indiana county fear they are facing a health epidemic like the one in Austin, Ind., that has resulted in more than 150 confirmed cases of HIV and is blamed mostly on shared needle use, reports Maureen Hayden for Community Newspaper Holdings. Local leaders in Fayette County (Wikipedia map), which ranks last in the state in health rankings, fear that hepatitis C is beginning to run rampant among the 24,000 residents and are seeking to establish a needle-exchange program like the one in Scott County, home to Austin.

Fayette County hepatitis C rates are second in the state, to Scott County, Hayden writes. Last year 72 hepatitis C cases were reported in Fayette County. Through April of this year, 60 cases have been reported. In Connersville—a town of 13,232 people and the county seat—41 people overdosed on heroin in the last three months of 2014, and eight of those people died.

One problem is that no state money can be used to support a needle-exchange program, Hayden writes. "A local health department must initiate the request for an exchange and gain approval from county commissioners after a public hearing. Local officials then seek approval from the state Public Health Commissioner, who must determine that a needle exchange is warranted." 

Another problem is that in Fayette County "an estimated 20 percent of adults have no health insurance, though that could change if local officials enroll more people into the state’s expanded Medicaid program," Hayden writes.

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