Indiana health officials announced an outbreak of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the southeastern part of the state yesterday saying that at least 26 confirmed cases have been reported since mid-December.

Indiana counties/Cool10191
Indiana counties/Cool10191

Authorities say the bulk of the cases are linked through injection drug abuse of the prescription drug, opana, a powerful opioid painkiller containing oxymorphone that is more potent than Oxycontin.

In addition, a small number of cases are linked through sexual transmission.

“It’s very concerning to me that most of the individuals who have tested HIV positive have only recently contracted the virus,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. “Because prescription drug abuse is at the heart of this outbreak, we are not only working to identify, contact and test individuals who may have been exposed, but also to connect community members to resources for substance abuse treatment and recovery.”

State health officials are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others to contain the spread of HIV in southeastern Indiana. Disease intervention specialists are in the area, interviewing each newly identified HIV positive individual to obtain information about needle sharing and sex partners, as well as recommending care coordination services, medical care and HIV prevention information.

State health officials recommend that all Hoosiers know their HIV status through testing at a health care facility. Hoosiers in the southeastern portion of the state, especially individuals who have engaged in high-risk behavior such as needle sharing and unprotected sex, are advised to get tested and then re-tested after about two to three months because HIV can take up to three months to appear in a person’s system.

To help reduce risk of HIV infection, health officials advise to avoid: injection drug use; sharing or re-using needles;engaging in unprotected sex; and engaging in sex with commercial sex workers.