World AIDS Day brings health experts to IU to discuss Scott Co. HIV epidemic

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (December 1, 2015) – Wednesday marked the 27th anniversary of World AIDS Day to bring awareness to a disease that has claimed 39 million lives around the world.

It has been brought to light recently in Indiana though with an HIV epidemic of our own. Wednesday, state and federal health officials met in Bloomington to give an update on the HIV outbreak impacting nearly 200 people in southern Indiana.

It sent shockwaves around the world. There were 183 new cases of HIV in a matter of months, in a rural Indiana county of just a couple thousand people.

“Proportionally, it is the worst outbreak of HIV in the history of the United States,” said Dr. Jennifer Walthall, the Deputy Health Commissioner for the Indiana State Department of Health.

183 people are living with HIV in Scott County Indiana. Many, experts say were infected from intravenous drug use, a product of opioid addiction.

Walthall was one of the first to realize how catastrophic this year’s outbreak was, “Everyone knew that this was a possibility but no one knew where. The fact that Scott County happened to be the where, was not what we expected,” she said.

This summer, seemingly overnight in Scott County, 50 new cases had turned into 80, 80 had turned to 100. Spiraling out of control, the work to control the outbreak had to meet its historic proportions. Immediately, testing centers, treatment facilities, and addiction intervention were implemented. Governor Mike Pence even initiated a first ever, emergency needle exchange program, which experts say contributed in part, to getting the outbreak under control.

“We’ve had several months without any new cases which is really pretty phenomenal,” said Walthall.

“Only about 8 percent prevalence of HIV infection is in rural communities and so hence, I think people did think how can this happen, what made Austin, why Austin, Indiana?” said Dr. William Yarber, IU Public Health professor and Senior Director for the Rural Center for AIDS and STD Prevention.

Experts like Yarber came together Wednesday, on World AIDS Day, their work, cut out for them.

“Our job is to not only take care of the folks who now have a new normal but to make sure that this never happens again,” said Walthall.

By 2030, the CDC has a bold and ambitious goal; that HIV will no longer be considered an epidemic in the U.S.

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