LOCAL NEWS

Forum addresses Scott County HIV epidemic

Montgomery County could be at risk to be the next Scott County which is experiencing an epidemic of HIV cases. Local health officials and Indiana State Department of Health Sexually Transmitted Infections Interim Director Jeremy Roseberry gave a presentation on the Scott County epidemic at a public health forum Thursday night on the campus of Wabash College. 

Roseberry is on the front line of sexually transmitted infections in Indiana and it was his department that formed the first battle line between the outbreak of HIV and residents of Scott County which has a population of 24,000. 

 

In Thursday’s presentation Roseberry described how quick the outbreak exploded in the southern Indiana County and especially in the City of Austin with a population of 4,200 residents.

“The first two cases of HIV were reported in November of 2015,” Roseberry said. “By the end of March the HIV outbreak was declared an epidemic. As of today, we have identified 181 HIV cases, most of which are within a six block area in Austin.”

The ISDH is still monitoring the situation and treating it as a health epidemic. Roseberry said the lessons learned in Scott County need to be communicated to every rural county in the state and beyond.

Roseberry said some specific actions by those infected have been identified. In Scott County there was  poor public health infrastructure. Secondly, a new drug had entered into the community resulting in an increase of injection drug use. There also was a large needle sharing network among the drug users. Lastly, those who were infected with HIV were doing multiple injections every day.

“There were numerous lessons learned in Scott County,” Roseberry said. “Unfortunately some of the problems that contributed to the epidemic are the same challenges each rural county has.”

Roseberry said a lack of funding for health infrastructure is the norm in rural Indiana counties. He also stated in most rural counties there is a very limited HIV awareness amongst drug users. The ISDH also discovered there is a connection between those infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. Of the 181 HIV patients in Scott County, 167 also had Hepatitis C. 

“I was amazed at the network of users in Austin,” Roseberry said. “I would be in one house and there would be from eight to 12 individuals in the house shooting up and sharing the needles. I would go next door and some of the same people would walk in.”

Roseberry also said there was a lack of HIV testing opportunities for those without insurance. 

Montgomery County Health Department Nurse Rebecca Lang said the problem of no free testing exists in Montgomery County as well.

“For years I have been able to send potential individuals for HIV testing to a free clinic in Boone County,” Lang told the audience. “Now, I am not allowed to do that.”

The good news is that Lang is working with a coalition of residents and the ISDH to bring SDI testing to the county. Also, the County Health Department is working to overcome the barriers that were found in Scott County. 

Montgomery Health Department Sanitarian Amber Reed reminded attendees that information gathering is important to health infrastructure. The ongoing Health Department Survey is one way her department can garner important information concerning health needs in the county.

Lang reported that the amount of HIV cases in Montgomery County has been stable for several years and no new cases have been reported in 2015.

The forum was sponsored by the Montgomery County League of Women Voters.