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Governor Extends HIV|Alarm in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - An HIV outbreak in rural southeastern Indiana led the governor Monday to extend his declaration of a public health emergency, after 0.5 percent of a county's population tested positive for the virus.

Gov. Mike Pence extended Indiana's public health emergency for an unprecedented outbreak of HIV in Scott County.

The county seat, Scottsville, is 120 miles north of Louisville, Ky.

Pence on March 26 ordered a multi-agency response to Scott County's HIV epidemic.

On Friday, the Indiana Department of Health confirmed 128 recent cases of HIV in Scott County, and six unconfirmed cases.

The outbreak is attributed to needle injection drug abuse.

Pence instituted the needle-exchange program after the outbreak. The needle exchange is not being blamed for the outbreak.

Scott County, pop. 25,000, typically sees five or fewer new cases of AIDS a year.

Since Pence approved the temporary exchange program, 5,322 clean syringes have been provided to 86 participants, health officials told The Associated Press on Friday. About 1,400 used syringes have been returned.

"Today," Pence said Monday, "on the recommendations of the Indiana State Department of Health and in consultation with Scott County officials and the Centers for Disease Control, I used my authority as governor to extend the public health emergency in Scott County for an additional 30 days. While we've made progress in identifying and treating those affected by this heartbreaking epidemic, the public health emergency continues and so must our efforts to fight it."

More than 70 new HIV cases were identified in Scott County near the end of March, spurring Pence's original declaration.

All were believed to stem from injection of the prescription painkiller Opana.

Pence instituted a 30-day needle exchange program after declaring the state of emergency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a team to Scott County on March 23.

The needle exchange program has not stemmed the tide of new AIDS cases, likely because more people are getting tested and diagnosed.

The program expires on April 26, but could be extended should the need exist.

Health workers using a mobile unit to canvass affected neighborhoods encouraged people to turn in used syringes for clean ones.

The 30-day needle exchange program may have cost Pence some political support, as the Republican governor has opposed such programs.

Pence did not comment publicly or answer questions Monday on the needle program extension.

A slow economy, high unemployment and limited opportunity have contributed to the southern Indiana county's drug addition problem for years.

Rural counties across the United States are also havens for meth labs, because the stink of the cooking chemicals draw comment in cities.

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