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Inside an HIV Epidemic

Providing HIV flash test kits and other preventative measures might have saved Indiana from the staggering $250,000,000 its recent HIV epidemic is expected to cost. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 150 people in southeast Indiana have been diagnosed with HIV, the largest outbreak in state history.

Even though the first reports trickled in to state health officials last December, they didn't tell their local counterparts in Scott County for two months when it became a full-blown epidemic.

Investigative reporter Bob Segall has been looking into the outbreak for WTHR, NBC's Indianapolis affiliate. He joins ProPublica senior health reporter Charles Ornstein on the podcast this week to discuss:

  • How Indiana’s healthcare infrastructure has been deteriorating over the past 20 years. Many HIV/STD clinics have shut down due to lack of funding – forcing residents to travel hours to be properly tested.
  • The staggering cost of HIV treatment. Over a patient's lifetime, healthcare and public assistance costs can come in just under $1 million. Experts say, over the long term, the epidemic could cost Scott County nearly a quarter of a billion dollars – crucial funds which could have been used earlier for prevention and resources.
  • How even though disease numbers must be reported to the state, there's no requirement to notify local counties. This loophole created the "perfect storm," Segall says, where Scott County officials were the last to know they had an epidemic brewing in their own backyard.

“It seems to me that the takeaway for state health officials and for journalists who cover them is to look at this situation and see what can be learned from it and not simply wait for this to happen in other communities across the country,” Ornstein says.

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. And you can read Segall's full investigation here for more on the story.

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