INDIANAPOLIS (CBS/AP)– The governor of Indiana declared a public health emergency Thursday in a county shaken by a recent outbreak of HIV infections.
Gov. Mike Pence also authorized a short-term needle exchange program to help contain the outbreak in Scott County, in the southern part of the state about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky.
Health officials say there have been 79 new HIV infections confirmed since January in a county with only about 24,000 residents. Most of the cases are believed to be linked to illegal drug use and needle sharing, especially among abusers of injectable prescription painkillers. Normally, Scott County sees about five new HIV cases a year.
Pence ordered the state health department to set up a command center to coordinate HIV and substance abuse treatment and establish a mobile unit to enroll people in a state-run health program.
Indiana bars needle exchange programs, but Pence authorized a short-term exchange on the advice of federal and state health officials.
“This is a public health emergency and I’m listening to my health department, I’m listening to the Centers for Disease Control and I’ll make my decision based on the best science and the best way we can stop this virus and stop this outbreak in its tracks,” Pence said Wednesday after meeting with local officials in Scottsburg, the county’s seat.