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New billboards highlight HIV outbreak in Indiana

Published: May. 20, 2015 at 1:37 AM CDT|Updated: May. 19, 2016 at 9:25 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - On Wednesday, officials in Scott County, Indiana will hold a hearing on whether to expand the needle exchange program for one year.

The program was put in place after an HIV epidemic was linked to drug use.

Health officials confirm the number of cases has now risen to 158.

We're learning there are cases of HIV related to drug use in Vanderburgh County. But the exact number is unknown.

Health officials in Scott County tell WTHR-TV that's exactly what happened to them.

They found out they had an epidemic, they say, through a news release from the state.

That's because, they say, HIV positive results and HIV testing are normally not reported to the local health departments.

Instead, they are reported to the State Department of Health.

WTHR reports, in the case of Scott County, it was weeks before local officials there were notified of an epidemic -- despite what state officials recently told the media.

"I think the gravity of the situation was understood very quickly and that's why the response was so comprehensive and so rapid," said Dr. Jennifer Walthall with the Indiana State Department of Health.

In response to the outbreak in Scott County, billboards about getting tested for HIV are going up across the state.

They're sponsored by the State Department of Health.

A state representative believes local health departments are the front lines of defense and something needs to change.

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