Halting spread, seeking cures
for infectious diseases
AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis… they’re among the deadly infectious diseases on which Health Science Center researchers are focused.
A decade ago, there were few treatment options available for babies born with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), for the mothers that were HIV positive, or for the caregivers in their families. But a program in the Health Science Center’s division of community pediatrics changed all that.
Started as a pilot program in 1988, the South Texas AIDS Center for Children and Their Families entered its 10th year of funding this fall. Currently serving more than 120 families, including more than 500 individuals either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, the center conservatively estimates that more than 1,000 people have received assistance.
The center’s purposes—to fill the void where once there was little or no care for the tiny, to serve as a clinical site for research studies and to address all psychosocial needs of the AIDS affected—fit perfectly the motto of the most recent World AIDS Day: "Give Children Hope in a World with AIDS." In its short but productive history, the South Texas AIDS Center has been a beacon amidst HIV/AIDS darkness.
Internationally recognized for his work in viral hepatitis, HIV infection, infection control and regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as they relate to the dental profession, James A. Cottone, DMD, professor of dental diagnostic science, created the "Commandments of Infection Control." The commandments have become the world’s standards for avoiding the spread of infectious disease in a dental environment, and were written to protect both the patient and the health care provider.
Hepatitis B vaccine for dentists and co-workers, antiseptic hand wash, gloves, masks, protective eyewear, proper clinic attire, rubber dams (used to control fluids during oral procedures), ultrasonic cleaning of instruments, heat sterilization for dental instruments, glutaraldehyde (disinfectant for instruments that cannot withstand heat), surface disinfectant (for routine disinfection of office surfaces and equipment), sodium hypochlorite (for disinfection of surfaces when high-risk patients are treated), and plastic wrap (for covering surfaces and equipment) are among the preventive measures Dr. Cottone was first to recommend to avoid the spread of infectious disease in dental operatories.
A faculty member for 20 years, Dr. Cottone also is a world-renowned expert in forensic dentistry and participated in the identification of Lee Harvey Oswald’s exhumed remains and emergency identifications following several major air disasters.
Novel immunotherapies and vaccine strategies for tuberculosis are the research interests of Sunil K. Ahuja, MD, and Seema S. Ahuja, both assistant professors in the department of medicine. This husband/wife team, with a $714,996 grant from San Antonio’s Kleberg Foundation, is working to develop a means of effectively treating tuberculosis cases that are drug-resistant or that progress because of a failure of the natural immune defenses. According to Robert A. Clark, MD, professor and chairman of medicine, tuberculosis affects one in every three people and is the most common infectious cause of death, with 3 million fatal adult cases annually. He adds that South Texas and the Texas/Mexico border have been focuses of this increasing problem.
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