- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Officials in a central Indiana county declared a public health emergency Tuesday over a growing number of hepatitis C cases and are requesting state approval for starting a needle-exchange program.

The Madison County commissioners voted to take those steps at the request of the county health department, The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin reported (https://bit.ly/1MZJzeg ).

The move comes after the county had 130 new hepatitis C cases last year, nearly double its number from 2013. Health officials say high hepatitis C rates are often a precursor to HIV tied to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.

Madison County is projected to top the 130 new cases mark this year and needs a new effort to stem the spread of disease, said Kellie Kelley, public information officer for the county health department.

“We have a growing number of intravenous drug users,” Kelley said. “There is a pattern in certain areas of the county.”

More than 160 people have tested positive in recent months for HIV in a southeastern Indiana outbreak tied to needle sharing.

That outbreak, centered in Scott County, prompted Gov. Mike Pence in March to allow a short-term needle-exchange program for the county and for state legislators to approve a new law allowing communities in the midst of an epidemic to seek approval from the state health commissioner to launch such programs.

Madison County officials hope to have the needle-exchange program operating by the end of the summer at up to four locations and, if needed, a mobile office. The proposed budget for the program for the remainder of the year is $13,000, with the money coming from the county health department.

Kelley said county health officials believe the needle-exchange program could be “a life preserver” that could help prevent a repeat of the southeastern Indiana HIV outbreak.

“We’re not seeing the same increase in HIV cases,” Kelley said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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