ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning today that an HIV outbreak in Indiana could be a harbinger of similar outbreaks around the country. The state now has nearly 140 cases of HIV confirmed. The bulk of those are in Scott County and are linked to injected drug abuse. Just ahead, a conversation with Indiana's state health commissioner. But first, NPR's Anders Kelto reports on today's federal warning.
ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC's Center for HIV and AIDS, says the root of the problem is prescription painkillers.
JONATHAN MERMIN: The overprescribing of these powerful drugs has created a national epidemic of drug abuse and overdose.
KELTO: It's not just in Indiana. In many parts of the country, he says, people are injecting themselves with prescription opioids, and injection drug use has caused an unprecedented rise in cases of hepatitis C, a virus that can be spread from people sharing needles.
MERMIN: New CDC data on viral hepatitis show 150 percent increase during the four-year period between 2010 and 2013.
KELTO: Hepatitis C can cause liver damage and is even deadly if it isn't treated. And HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, spreads the same way. So the CDC is worried that outbreaks of HIV might follow outbreaks of hepatitis, just like in Indiana. The agency has now issued what it's calling a national health advisory. Basically, it's telling doctors and health departments to take a number of steps to stop outbreaks from developing. Doctors need to stop overprescribing the prescription painkillers people are abusing. They need to screen more people for HIV and the hepatitis C virus, or HCV.
MERMIN: To help identify communities that could be at high risk for unrecognized clusters of HCV and HIV infections.
KELTO: That way they can detect outbreaks early. And the agency recommends offering clean needles to people who are addicted. The CDC is also asking state health agencies to make sure addiction and counseling services are available and to track and report new cases of HIV and hepatitis, so the disease doesn't spread.
MERMIN: The situation in Indiana should serve as a warning that we cannot let down our guard against these deadly infections.
KELTO: Because just like in Indiana, Mermin says, they can come back and spread quickly. Anders Kelto, NPR News, Washington.
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