Motorists along busy Interstate Highway 65 outside of Indianapolis were greeted with digital construction signs this week warning them of an HIV outbreak.
One such sign was located at the rest area at mile marker 72 on I-65. I-65 is a massive trucking and travel interstate highway linking Chicago to Alabama.
Scott County, in Southern Indiana, has seen an HIV outbreak since December 2014. That outbreak has included 145 positive tests, mostly among intravenous drug users in the rural, impoverished community. To combat that outbreak, health officials created an educational campaign, particularly for truck drivers in the region. This educational campaign, according to an Indiana government press release, included highway signs. The campaign is called "You Are Not Alone."
Such signs have been used by Indiana Department of Transportation officials, the press release confirms.
"INDOT is already using their electronic message signs to promote the HIV testing hotline and is planning to place signage at the rest stops near Henryville and Taylorsville," said Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H., the state's health commissioner.
But Amanda Turney, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Health, was unable to confirm Monday if the signs were part of the state's outreach efforts or if health officials in another department were involved in placing the signs. She has failed to respond to multiple emails and phone calls on Tuesday.
Blogger Josh Robbins reported Tuesday morning on Twitter that a spokesperson for the state had confirmed the signs were being removed. Robbins provided TheBody.com with a screenshot of his communications with Indiana Health spokesperson Kenneth Severson. The one-line email from Severson states, "It has been removed," referring to the sign.
"These messages are hysteria-driven, dangerous and misleading," said Naina Khanna, executive director of the Positive Women's Network - USA, which first brought the issue to light on social media on Monday. "They fuel stigma, discrimination and violation against people living with HIV and those perceived to be at risk for HIV. The state health department and bureau of transportation should use this opportunity to make a statement correcting myths and misperceptions about how HIV is transmitted."