GRAND FORKS, ND (WDAZ-TV) – As the number of HIV cases across North Dakota more than doubles, the state is searching for new ways to combat the infection – including a town hall that’s the first of its kind in our area.

Department of Health employees admit that mobile messaging is really rare, but they think it is needed to save lives.

Kerry Anderson, Valley Health Clinic CMA and administrative manager: “It used to be that many years ago that people would get HIV somewhere else.”

Anderson is a certified medical assistant and manager at Valley Health Clinic. She’s seen countless HIV diagnosis over the years.

Anderson: “Everybody should know their status no matter if they think they should’ve been exposed or not.”

Anderson says many people don’t realize that HIV impacts more than just men who have sex with men.

Anderson: “It’s not just a gay issue. It is a heterosexual issue. It’s is an IV drug user issue. It can affect anyone at any time.”

In recent months, Valley Health has only seen a few HIV positive cases but the numbers statewide are staggering. Last year, 88 cases of HIV were diagnosed in North Dakota – a nearly 66% increase.

Shawn McBride, at the Department of Health epidemiologist: “The ball is moving faster than I can keep up with it.”

So the Health Department is hitting the road to visit cities across the state in hopes of educating people about HIV transmission, diagnosis and treatment.

McBride: “Right now our trajectory in the first half of the year has been that we could potentially surpass that number and so we are seeing a rise in HIV cases.”

At Valley Health you can come down and get tested for free anytime between Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and on Fridays between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. They recommend that everybody get tested at least once in their lives.”

Anderson is hoping more people come through these doors after tomorrow’s meeting.

Anderson: “I’m hoping it’ll get rid of that stigmatism that people won’t have to worry and hide and stuff that they can be more open.”

It’s a finger prick that takes 15 to 20 minutes, and could be worth saving a life.

The HIV town hall is scheduled for tomorrow at the Staybridge Suites starting at 3 p.m. Experts will be on hand to talk about HIV prevention, transmission, and treatment.

Author: Ken Chase