The governor of Indiana in the US has declared a public health emergency after an HIV outbreak “reached epidemic proportions” in part of the state. BBC News reports that Scott County, a poor area where needle-sharing by drug users is common, has seen 79 new cases in recent weeks – up from an annual average of five.
Governor Mike Pence has authorised health officials to implement a needle exchange programme – a remedy he has opposed in the past. “Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” the governor said. “With additional state resources and new tools provided by this emergency declaration, I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks.”
The outbreak was first identified in late January. Since then, officials have diagnosed 79 people with the life-threatening virus – up from 26 cases just one month ago.
State epidemiologist Pam Pontones said almost all of the cases originated from illegal drug users sharing syringes. A large majority of the victims had shared a needle with an infected person while injecting Opana, a prescription painkiller. Officials expect the number of infections to rise, and are working to contact as many as 100 other people linked to those with confirmed cases.Full BBC News report