An HIV and AIDS support group has formed in Carroll County to help infected people and their families cope with the disease and myriad problems that range from losses of income and insurance to isolation.
A Ryan White Title I federal grant also has helped the Carroll and Howard County health departments establish a sero-positive clinic for newly diagnosed HIV-patients.
"Patients feel alone in the battle against the disease and all the issues surrounding it," said Debbie G. Middleton, director of the communicable diseases division at the Carroll County Health Department. "In the group, they find others dealing with the same set of problems."
The members meet with a health care facilitator at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. To protect confidentiality, anyone interested in attending should call 876-4771 for the location of the meeting.
"The sessions are loose and informal," said Linda Stromberg, theHealth Department's AIDS case manager. "They share as much or as little as they want."
For 90 minutes at each meeting, members voice their feelings and vent frustrations, she said. "We are offering genuine interest in an atmosphere of comfort and confidentiality," Ms. Stromberg said. "Participants run it and make the rules. They reveal what they want and can use their full names or nicknames."
The meetings are "for the most part upbeat," Ms. Stromberg said. Members offer each other "general tips to alleviate symptoms."
During the last session, one member suggested bag balm to soothe skin problems. "We laughed that a lotion used on cow udders could help," she said.
Ms. Stromberg said she eventually anticipates having two separate groups, one for families and one for patients that will form from the present group.
Health care workers also can disseminate information on available services through the group.
"A patient may need medication immediately and his medical assistance card doesn't go into effect for a month," Ms. Stromberg said. "We have access to federal grant money for medical, housing and transportation emergencies."
The monthly sero-positive clinic, financed with the grant money, will alternate operations between Carroll and Howard counties from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month, starting March 11 in Howard and April 8 in Carroll.
Its main thrust will be initial assessment and recommendation, said Ms. Stromberg. Each participating patient will have the opportunity to get a complete evaluation from a Johns Hopkins Hospital physician.
"The physician will determine where patients are in the disease and what needs to be done," Ms. Middleton said. "The doctor can develop a plan of care for the patient's private physician to follow."
Health Department officials also can recommend area doctors who are experienced in the treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Both counties' health departments are sending letters detailing the clinic's services to all county doctors.
The Carroll County Health Department conducts confidential testing for HIV from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
About 150 people are tested each month.
"There has been a tremendous increase in requests for tests and counseling over this past year," Ms. Middleton said. "We have daily calls from people saying they have to be tested."
In April, the staff will add an evening testing clinic, at a time when other clinics are also in operation.
"Nobody will know why anyone else is there," Ms. Stromberg said.
Information: 876-4771 or 876-4926.