The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:55 am

Indiana to keep HIV outbreak response center open for 1 year

RICK CALLAHAN | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – With the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana history on the wane, a state-run community outreach center that's been in operation since late March will close next week and reopen at another location, state health officials said Wednesday.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said the three-days-a-week response center in the Scott County city of Austin will close June 25 but HIV testing, a needle exchange and its other services will continue at a to-be-determined site that will remain open for at least one year.

"We are not leaving Scott County. This is a transition to more local control, more local empowerment," Adams said during a news conference in Indianapolis about the outbreak, which is largely confined to the county that's about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, and mostly driven by needle-sharing among people who injected a liquefied form of the painkiller Opana.

The outbreak appears to have plateaued from its peak in late April, when there were 23 new HIV cases in a single week, deputy state health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall said. But in recent weeks, the number of new HIV cases has dwindled "dramatically" to only one or two new cases – or none – a week, she said. There are 169 confirmed HIV cases and one preliminary positive case.

Scott County officials received state approval last month to operate a needle-exchange for a year to combat the further spread of the virus by providing users with clean needles.

State and local officials are close to securing a new location for the outreach center in Austin, a city of 4,200 residents. County officials and other local partners will have a greater role in operating that new site, which will be open one day a week, Adams said.

Health officials are searching for 46 people who had contact with some people who may be infected, Walthall said, while 21 others have refused to be tested for HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

Walthall said about 70 percent of those who've been infected are now receiving medical care. Eleven people – or about 7 percent of the outbreak's total – receiving drug therapy have seen their HIV viral loads fall too low for them to spread to the virus to others.

"We need to get the viral loads suppressed so that we don't have a second wave of new HIV positives," she said, adding that the goal is to have 90 percent of the infected people being treated with similarly suppressed viral levels within six months.

Health officials will also be retesting many of the people who previously tested negative for HIV to see if they're now HIV-positive.


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