Health

Kentucky is seeing a rapid increase in the number of syphilis infections, mirroring a national trend.

Public health officials are seeking expanded education and treatment for the sexually transmitted disease.

Kentucky’s number of syphilis cases has doubled since 2009, to just over 10 cases per 100-thousand residents.

The Courier-Journal reports the figures from the state Department for Public Health also show Louisville is home to nearly half of the state’s cases.

Kentucky state epidemiologist Kraig Humbaugh says most of the recent national increase in syphilis cases effect men—especially men who have sex with other men.

Syphilis is a bacterial disease with symptoms such as sores, headaches, and fevers. It can be treated with antibiotics, but—if left untreated—could lead to blindness or stroke in later stages.

It can also be passed from a mother to a fetus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for increased public education efforts concerning safe sex, and greater promotion of syphilis awareness and screenings.

The Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green estimates they're a little over a month away from setting up their local needle exchange program for intravenous drug users. One of the key provisions in the high profile heroin bill passed by the General Assembly during their session earlier this year allowed local municipalities the option of setting up the exchanges.

Disease intervention specialist Chip Krause estimates their "Harm Reduction and Syringe Access Program" will be operational by May 1st.

The program is designed to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from spreading among drug users who use dirty needles. Krause says a lot of people in the community have the wrong idea about it, thinking the health department is just helping addicts with their habits, but that's not the case, "A lot of people are pretty upset that these kinds of things do happen," he said, "but overall it's a good thing for the community because it prevents disease from spreading to some of the population that could be at risk."

Krause says even with a large college like WKU in town, they don't really see much heroin use but he says it is in the area and has to be dealt with. "You hate to say it's a big problem, but any time you have drug use with the possibility of spread of disease it is a problem and something we need to address."

An Eastern Kentucky nurse is suing the state for not allowing her to take addiction medicine like Suboxone or Vivitrol while she’s out of jail on bond.

The terms set by Floyd County District Court, where Stephanie Watson’s court case is still pending, prevent her from using medically-assisted drug treatment.

Most courts in Kentucky don’t allow those who are on probation, in jail or out on bond to use drugs that treat addiction because some, like Suboxone, are addictive.

Stephanie Watson was arrested for breaking into a Prestonsburg biohazard waste container to retrieve remnants from disposed drug vials.

Watson’s lawyer, Ned Pillersdorf, has filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky. He says that judges who refuse to allow addicts to use Suboxone and Methadone are part of a system that violates the Americans With Disabilities act.

“They don’t need to have judges or drug courts looking over their shoulder and saying we will approve or won’t approve that particular prescription,” Pillsersdorf said. “Our position is that opiate addicts should have the right to receive lawful prescriptions from doctors who are able to prescribe without interference from the court system.”

Indiana health officials say more than 100 people have tested positive for HIV in an outbreak of the virus among intravenous drug users in southeastern Indiana.

The state’s Joint Information Center said Friday that as of Thursday there had been 95 confirmed HIV cases and 11 preliminary positive cases tied to the outbreak.

All of the HIV cases have been linked to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.

Scott County — about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky — is the epicenter of Indiana’s largest-ever HIV outbreak.

Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in the county on March 26 that allowed the creation of a limited needle-exchange program that aims to stem the spread of the virus.

The nation's drug czar was in Kentucky Thursday to tout needle-exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of disease and to steer heroin users into treatment.

Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy, visited northern Kentucky, which has been hard hit by heroin abuse addiction. He was invited to Kentucky by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

During his speech, Botticelli said needle-exchange programs are a way to reduce the spread of hepatitis and HIV by discouraging use of dirty needles by multiple people.

He said the programs reduce the risk that law enforcement officers will be infected by accidental needle sticks. Kentucky lawmakers last month passed sweeping anti-heroin legislation.

One component allows local governments to set up needle-exchange programs where addicts can swap dirty needles for clean ones.

On the first day of its new HIV clinic, the Community Outreach Center in Austin, Ind., is quiet.

Rows of chairs line the lobby. Health care providers walk in and out of  doors that lead to private testing areas, treatment resources and other services. The makeshift center is dubbed a One- Stop Shop, sanctioned and overseen by the Indiana State Department of Health.

State and local health officials have begun a needle-exchange program in a southern Indiana county where an HIV outbreak among intravenous drug users has grown to nearly 90 cases.

Scott County’s needle-exchange program started Saturday morning under an emergency executive order signed last week by Gov. Mike Pence.

That 30-day order temporarily suspended Indiana’s ban on such programs, but only for the southern Indiana county about 30 miles north of Louisville.

The program is open only to Scott County residents through the Community Outreach Center in the city of Austin that’s at the epicenter of the epidemic. That region now has  84 confirmed HIV cases and five preliminary positive cases.

Each participant will initially receive enough needles for one week to help combat needle-sharing that’s caused the epidemic.

Indiana is launching a needle exchange program in Scott County to combat an outbreak of HIV related to intravenous drug use.

Disease intervention specialists from nearby counties and states, including Kentucky, have been called upon to assist.

Louisville is about 40 miles south of Scott County, and Kentucky officials are battling this state’s own issues with intravenous drug use—specifically, with a spike in heroin use.

But Kentucky health officials have not seen a surge in new HIV cases despite the Indiana outbreak, said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, director of the division of epidemiology and health planning for Kentucky.

He said he expects Louisville physicians to see an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for HIV from Southern Indiana.

He said it’s too early to tell whether the Indiana HIV outbreak will also lead to an increase in Kentucky.

In 2013, there were 392 newly diagnosed HIV cases in Kentucky, according to the 2014 HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report.

Dr. William Cooke knew he wanted to practice medicine in a rural town. He’s been a physician in Austin, Indiana, for 10 years—and he’s the only physician in town.

“I went there specifically to bring access to care,” he said.

Austin is in  Scott County, which is at the center of national focus because of an HIV outbreak attributed to intravenous drug use.

To meet the crisis, Cooke is providing a much-needed free HIV clinic for the small city of about 4,300 people. So far, more than 80 people Scott County have tested positive for HIV since the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Cooke and his team at Foundations Family Medicine opened an HIV clinic in their existing office in Austin, about 40 miles north of Louisville.  They were joined by representatives from the Indiana State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Indiana Family and Social Service Administration and local health departments.

On its first day, about 30 people stopped by the HIV clinic either for testing or to initiate HIV treatment, he said. All of the services and care were provided free of charge.

“The people of Austin deserve to have their own clinic to get treatment from and not require them to travel to Louisville or Indianapolis,” he said.

An increase in Medicaid services and a decline in the private insurance market in rural Kentucky has hit rural hospitals hard, according to State Auditor Adam Edelen.

More than two-thirds of Kentucky’s rural hospitals are below the national average on a financial strength rating system, and more than one-third are considered to be in poor financial health, according to a report released Monday.

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