Henry County monitoring uptick in Hepatitis C cases

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NEW CASTLE, Ind. (Oct. 20, 2015)-- The Henry County Health Department is monitoring increasing Hepatitis C numbers, as an indicator of needle sharing among drug users.

Indiana lawmakers approved needle exchange programs in April, after a historic HIV outbreak in Scott County.

Henry County is now testing inmates at the jail, to monitor the spread of Hepatitis C.

“A lot of folks that are involved in IV drug use end up in jail,” said Doug Mathis, Administrator, Henry County Health Department.

Mathis said inmate testing started as a direct response to the HIV outbreak in Scott County. Henry County’s kept an eye on their number of Hepatitis C cases, which can serve as a future indicator of an HIV outbreak.

In 2013, they had 53 cases of Hepatitis C, compared to 44 in 2014. So far in 2015, they’re at 68.

“Our activity really picked up over the spring and summer with folks who are concerned about their status,” said Mathis.

The Indiana State Department of Health said Scott, Fayette, and Madison counties are the only ones to receive approval to operate needle exchange programs to deal with the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

Monroe County submitted a request for a public health emergency declaration, and the state is working with the county on their application.

In Madison County leaders report slow participation at first, but more than 1600 syringes have been distributed since their program started in August. Roughly 20 people have participated, with five of them repeat clients.

A needle exchange in Henry County could be a possibility, but a lack of available services, a key state requirement, stands in the way.

“We have to be able to make referrals for addiction counseling services, and we just haven’t found somebody who’s willing to take those folks on at this point,” said Mathis.

Mathis and other health department officials will give an updated report to their county health board in the coming months.

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