Public health officials are making an effort to warn and educate truckers and other travelers about a major HIV epidemic in southeastern Indiana that has gone on unabated since late last year.
Some 158 cases (as of today, May 20) of the infection that can lead to AIDS have been reported so far, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Most have occurred in rural Scott County, which is located 30 miles north of Louisville, Ky. and bisected by heavily traveled I-65.
The Indiana Motor Truck Association has joined the public education awareness campaign. It has informed its 230 members of the HIV outbreak.
The state health commissioner has also sent letters to the owners of 15 travel plazas along I-65 asking them to support the “You Are Not Alone” awareness campaign that urges people to be tested for HIV. The campaign includes posters and flyers to be placed in areas frequented by truck drivers. There are also billboards and public service announcements on radio and TV.
Dr. Jennifer Whitehall, deputy state health commissioner, said that while her agency does not discuss individual cases, no truck drivers are among those reported to be infected with HIV in this outbreak.
Whitehall listed steps that can be taken to avoid the HIV infection:
- “Do not engage in sexual activity with commercial sex workers
- “Use condoms effectively
- “Do not engage in needle sharing”
Officials say most of the cases of HIV are attributed to needle sharing among intravenous drug users. A report earlier this month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 80 percent of those infected were dissolving tablets of the prescription painkiller oxymorphone, and then injecting the solution.
The state is warning truckers not so much about the dangers of intravenous drug use, but about frequenting prostitutes along I-65. State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams said truck drivers who find sexual partners in that area are particularly susceptible to becoming infected.
When the CDC studied people infected with HIV in Scott County, it found 10 of the women were what it called “commercial sex workers.”
Whitehall said anyone with concerns about possible infection should contact their primary care physician or their local health department.
I-65 is one of the major north-south highways in the U.S. It extends from the Indiana Toll Road in Gary Indiana 887 miles south to the intersection of I-10 in Mobile, Ala.