More than one million Americans are living with HIV, according to HIV.GOV. One in seven of those people is not even aware they are even infected.

In 2016 North Dakota had 50 new cases of AIDS/HIV, which is the state’s highest ever. Since then we only had 39 cases reported in 2018 and it will remain around the same this year.

However, while there isn’t an increase in new HIV cases in North Dakota, it’s still important to make sure you stay informed.

Every nine and half minutes someone in the US will be infected with the virus. There is a constant stream of new HIV medications coming out for people living with the disease that could make the virus undetectable in their blood.

Research shows that when people are virally suppressed there is effectively no risk to their sexual partners but it’s still important to get checked out.

ND STD Viral Hepatitis Surveillance Coordinator Shari Renton says, “The big thing is just going to get tested and making that more common practice. So everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. So just getting that out and making sure people know their status and if they are positive they can get on treatment right away and live a long healthy life.”

Renton adds 83% of North Dakotans living with HIV have reached viral suppression and that is a 12% increase from 2016.

To help with the epidemic the Trump Administration recently launched the Ready, Set, PrEP program.

The national program offers HIV-prevention drugs to uninsured Americans who are at risk of HIV. It was put in place to hopefully end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

PrEP medications are proven safe and effective. Due to the lack of awareness and expensive cost, there have been many barriers for at-risk people gaining access to the medications. CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid have signed on to provide these medications for their patients throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

There will be over 21-thousand available stores combined through CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. This initiative is expected to help over 200-thousand Americans.

“Having access to that medication is a big thing because we know it works. Unfortunately, there aren’t many providers at the time that will prescribe PrEP and we are trying to increase provider knowledge of this medication. I think there is just a lot of unknown about it and don’t feel comfortable about it and so infectious disease providers will prescribe the medication but we really want to get it into primary care so there is better access for it

To receive PrEP through the program, you must:

  • Test negative for HIV
  • Have a valid prescription from your healthcare provider
  • Not have health insurance coverage for outpatient prescription drugs

In order to get an HIV infection can only happen when infected bodily fluids get into your bloodstream whether that be:

  • from unprotected sex (including sex toys)
  • from mother to child during pregnancy–childbirth or breastfeeding
  • injecting drugs with a needle that has infected blood in it
  • or infected blood donations or organ transplants

You can’t get it from:

  • Kissing
  • Hugging
  • Sharing Food
  • Insect Bites
  • Toilet Seats
  • Bathing
  • Coughing or Sneezing
  • Sweat

North Dakota does offer free HIV and Hepatitis C testing to residents in our state and for more information, click here.