Local resource helps HIV/AIDS patients

Forty years ago, scientists predicted that due to antibiotics, the age of infectious diseases would soon come to an end. However, they were naively optimistic. Recent crises such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, rise of MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria, SARS and the Avian or "Bird" Flu, were not foreseen.

Today, HIV still is prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there are more than 1 million people in the U.S. infected with HIV and more than 25 percent of those are unaware of their infection. In northern Arizona, it is estimated that 1,000 people are infected with HIV. Since 2000, the number of new HIV infections acquired yearly (about 40,000) has stayed level. Fortunately, there are many resources to help those living with HIV.

The Shandiin Project at Flagstaff Medical Center is one resource in Northern Arizona. "Shandiin" is a Navajo word for "sun ray" and helps convey the hope and help offered to persons with HIV and reflects the unique regional culture of northern Arizona. The program, which was started in 2005, ensures the availability of medical services to persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the Shandiin Project provides community education on HIV/AIDS, assists in testing and confirming HIV infections, and guarantees specialized care for those who test positive, regardless of their ability to pay.

Today, HIV is a treatable disease. Fifteen years ago, those infected had few therapeutic options and most died after developing AIDS. Fortunately, now there are more than 20 medications available for treatment which, if used in multi-drug combinations, can avert AIDS and dramatically suppress the virus. The mortality rate from HIV/AIDS has been reduced greatly because of these therapies. The majority of patients now can expect a normal life expectancy if they stay the course with treatment.

Another component of the Shandiin Project is to provide a spectrum of infectious disease-related services. For example, with the increased popularity of adventure destinations and international excursions, travelers are at risk for regional and tropical diseases. FMC frequently sees cases of travelers who have acquired malaria or dengue fever abroad. Travel medicine services, including advice on immunizations, malaria and other travel risks are available through the Shandiin Project. The program offers an infectious disease specialist who is qualified by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and can provide expert consultation in travel medicine and tropical diseases. Also, if local physicians need advice on unusual or complex infectious diseases, evaluations through the Shandiin Project are arranged.

For more information regarding services through the Shandiin Project at Flagstaff Medical Center, call (928) 214-3832.

Mark Lacy, M.D., is an infectious disease specialist and the medical director of the Shandiin Project at FMC. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.

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