Free HIV testing clinics planned

The HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana has prompted the Jackson County Health Department to offer free weekly HIV testing clinics.

The testing will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and June 2, 9 and 16. The clinics will be at The Alley church and soup kitchen, 416 E. Second St., Seymour.

Lin Montgomery, county public health coordinator, attended the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday to spread the word about the confidential testing and also give the three members an update on the HIV situation locally.

As of last week, state health officials confirmed 157 cases of HIV in southeastern Indiana plus one preliminary positive case.

The outbreak has been linked to intravenous drug use, particularly the painkiller Opana, and centers on Scott County, just a few miles south of Crothersville.

Montgomery said there were 50 people living with HIV in Jackson County prior to the outbreak. Since February, eight new cases have been reported.

With the testing services available, Montgomery said she expects that number to go up.

“We understand that is probably going to raise our numbers,” she said.

The testing includes an initial swab for HIV antibodies then further testing if antibodies are present. The testing process takes about 30 minutes to complete.

While the testing is confidential, it is not anonymous, which means that some demographic information will be required of those who wish to be tested, Montgomery said.

In addition, the clinics will offer education about the virus that can lead to AIDS, and the hepatitis C test will be available upon request.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus and can spread through blood and bodily fluids, according to public health nurse Shara Calhoun, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

About 80 percent of people with HIV who inject drugs also have hepatitis C, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Calhoun said it’s a growing problem locally.

As of Jan. 1, there were 65 cases of the virus. That’s more than double the 27 cases reported in 2014.

There also have been seven new reported cases of hepatitis B, which also affects the liver. That’s one more than last year.

Calhoun said many of the hepatitis and HIV cases were found after testing was conducted at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown.

She said the concern for health officials is that some of those people would not have been tested otherwise, so she wonders how many others have been infected and don’t know it.

“It’s out there, and we just don’t know how much,” she said. “I think of it as the tip of the iceberg.”

Calhoun said with all hepatitis C cases, county health officials reach out to the people who are infected, have them fill out a questionnaire, educate them and let them know about treatment options.

She said treatment is available in a pill form, but it can cost up to $1,000 for a pill and has to be taken for 90 days.

People who contract HIV will have to rely on antiretroviral medications for the rest of their lives to hinder it from progressing.

The two health workers said the problem is that many of those impacted by the two viruses don’t have transportation to get tested let alone health insurance to help pay for treatment. In fact, some don’t even have working telephones.

“One of the glaring holes through this whole thing is poverty,” Montgomery told the commissioners.

In Austin, the One-Stop Shop set up at the Community Outreach Center has provided not only HIV testing but access to services some individuals lack. That includes state-issued identification cards, birth certificates, job counseling and local training, enrollment in HIP 2.0 insurance, HIV care coordination, substance abuse referrals and vaccinations against tetanus and hepatitis A and B.

So far, there have been 789 visitors to that center, 271 HIV tests administered and 298 immunizations. There also have been 107 people offered services through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and 84 through LifeSpring Mental Health Services, according to Tuesday’s report from the Indiana State Department of Health.

Scott County also continues to run a needle-exchange program that was approved and extended by Gov. Mike Pence. The state has been discussing extending that program even longer.

There have been 14,239 needles brought in and 16,290 provided through the program, according to the news release.

Montgomery has visited the area to offer assistance and said she knows of some Jackson County residents who have used the services at the One-Stop Shop.

She and Calhoun said health officials are looking into expanding Jackson County’s services, possibly into other areas outside Seymour. In the meantime, they plan to get the word out by putting up fliers about the clinics in restrooms and hand out educational pamphlets.

Commissioner Matt Reedy said he appreciated the two coming to the meeting and asked that they update the county of the situation as often as possible.

At a glance

The Jackson County Health Department will be offering free, confidential HIV testing from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through June 16.

The clinics will be at The Alley, 416 E. Second St., Seymour, using the rear entrance.

The testing includes an initial swab for HIV antibodies then further testing if the antibodies are present.

The testing process takes about 30 minutes. While the testing is confidential, it is not anonymous, which means that some demographic information will be required of those who wish to be tested.

For information, call the health department at 812-522-6667.