HIV and AIDS haven't gone away. In Yuma County, an average of 14 people are diagnosed with one or the other every year.
But as testing and treatments have progressed, the immune system-attacking disease that once incited deep fear and stigma doesn't have to mean death is near.
Flor Castañon, the HIV/AIDS medical case manager at the Yuma County health department, said people with HIV can live for 30 years or more now with proper care.
“The disease has shifted so much now,” she said. “The disease is looking more like chronic than anything just because of the treatment that's out there for it now.”
It can be managed, like diabetes or heart disease, with medications and healthy lifestyle. But because early detection gives patients the best chance at this, the Arizona Department of Health Services supports the “Know Your Status” campaign.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. People don't die of AIDS but rather complications because they can't fight off common illnesses- like pneumonia, which can challenge an otherwise healthy person, but can be deadly for an AIDS patient with a depleted immune system.
Castañon said locally, transmissions still most commonly occur in men who have unprotected sex with other men, followed by unprotected heterosexual sex and IV drug use. As of 2011, 211 people in Yuma County had HIV or AIDS, roughly half of them Hispanic, according to the state health department. Between 2008 and 2011, an average of 14 people in Yuma County were diagnosed annually.
Castañon has seen people die. She's also seen patients at the brink make rebounds. While they're still infected, they can go from near death to still living, five years out.
Yuma County offers community health education and reaches out to low-income patients with the Ryan White Program, a federally funded program that helps patients with doctors' visits, medications and support services.
Castañon pointed to a national statistic that one in five people who are living with HIV don't know it.
The disease is still out there, and even with advances it's still contagious and it's still serious.
“Once you are infected with this disease, your life changes,” she said. “You have to really start focusing on yourself and understand that you have to take care of yourself.”
Visit http://www.yumacountyaz.gov/index.aspx?page=615 to learn more about HIV/AIDS services through the Yuma County health department.
Hillary Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6857. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSHillaryDavis or on Twitter at @YSHillaryDavis.