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Hygiene Students Join Effort to Reduce HIV Prevalence

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Written by Adam Zewe

University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) dental hygiene students have joined an interdisciplinary effort to reduce the prevalence of HIV in Maryland. They are participating in the campus-wide Preparing the Future (PTF) II program, which includes HIV education seminars and cultural competency courses. As a culmination of the program, hygiene students become certified to administer rapid HIV tests and test patients in the dental clinics.

The observance of World AIDS Day on Sunday, Dec. 1 underscored the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Maryland. The state reported 1,783 new HIV diagnoses in 2011, which was the seventh-highest number in the nation, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control. In the City of Baltimore, more than 13,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS, according to the Maryland Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration.

After attending several PTF seminars, Hannah Saulsbury, RDH '14, was surprised to learn how widespread HIV and AIDS are today. "Even though HIV and AIDS are prevalent in all populations, it is still taboo to talk about the disease, its modes of transmission and getting tested. Raising awareness of these issues is essential," says Saulsbury.

As part of the PTF training, hygiene students learned to communicate with dental patients about the importance of HIV testing. The oral swab test, which is 99 percent accurate, returns a result in 20 to 40 minutes. UMSOD patients who test positive are referred to the UM School of Medicine for further testing, treatment and support.

Even though the training prepared students for a range of patient reactions, Katelynn Poulin, RDH '14, still found it challenging to discuss HIV. "Some patients still believe that HIV is a death sentence. Through this program, I've learned to communicate to them that this is no longer the case," Poulin remarks.

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