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Big jump in HIV among Navajo in New Mexico

May 21, 2013 at 2:02 AM   |   Comments

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GALLUP, N.M., May 21 (UPI) -- A Navajo reservation near Gallup, N.M., had a 20 percent increase in HIV diagnoses in 2012 from 2011, a doctor says.

Dr. Jonathan Iralu, an infectious disease specialist who runs an HIV clinic in Gallup, said he compiled the report for the federal Indian Health Service because he used to treat a small number of Navajo men with human immunodeficiency virus each year. However, the 47 new cases last year were the highest annual number recorded by the tribe, The New York Times reported.

"I'm scared to death," Iralu told The Times. "The numbers show there is a dangerous rise, and the time to act is now, before it's too late."

Iralu and other health workers said in the past, Navajo contracted the disease mostly in cities and returned with the disease to the reservation, but the most recent cases are being transmitted from one tribal member to another.

Preventing HIV is difficult on the reservation because the stigma of HIV is still very high and those who do get diagnosed often do not tell their relatives, friends or even their partner, Iralu said.

The report said men who have sex with men accounted for nearly half of the new cases.

Iralu said unless there is more HIV prevention and more screening, he feared "it could turn into a true epidemic."

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