Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pennsylvania officials fear a rural HIV outbreak, fueled by a rise in intravenous drug use

Last year's outbreak of HIV in rural Indiana—blamed on a rise in intravenous drug use—has officials in Pennsylvania worried about a similar outbreak in rural areas in the Keystone State. The number of HIV cases in southeastern Indiana, mostly around Austin in Scott County, stands at 190, according to state data. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in December said that rural areas lack prevention services for opiate addiction and HIV infections.

"Since 1980, IV drug use accounted for 15,000 HIV cases or roughly 26 percent of Pennsylvania's overall total, the second most prevalent cause in the state," Colin Deppen reports for Penn Live. "In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, IV drug use accounted for 5 percent of Pennsylvania's 1,210 new HIV cases, the third biggest cause that year." The Center for Rural Pennsylvania found that In rural Pennsylvania counties, home to about 3.5 million people, there were 108 new cases of HIV in 2011, 128 in 2012, 113 in 2013 and 112 in 2014. Rural HIV deaths fell from a peak of 140 in 1994 to 15 in 2013.

Officials say a needle exchange program would help reduce HIV cases, Deppen writes. "But under Pennsylvania law, distributing needles is still technically a crime," said Loren Robinson, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention with the Pennsylvania Department of Health." (Read more) (Penn Live map: HIV diagnoses from 2011-14)

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