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Is the oil boom responsible for spike in HIV cases?

North Dakota has a long-running history for having some of the lowest STD statistics in the United States. But recently, HIV prevention professionals are focusing on the state due to the increasing population as a result of the recent oil boom.

According to a recent article published in Healthline News, the Peace Garden State has more than doubled its amount of citizens living with HIV/AIDS in under two years. At the end of 2012, North Dakota had 254 people reported to be living with the virus. Now, the number has grown to 638 cases as stated by state health officials.

Of course, health administrators are looking to the Williston Basin region for answers. Some specialists believe the man camp living quarters, which have helped nearly triple the population of and around Willison, are fueling the growing issue. These young men with little to occupy themselves outside of work are perhaps one of the most vulnerable populations.

North Dakota Director of Disease Control Kirby Kruger acknowledges that the oil boom has driven an inflow of HIV cases. But he stresses that they’re not all coming from the camps. It’s impossible to pinpoint a finite source when other factors in North Dakota such as colleges in the eastern region, a booming economy and low unemployment continue to exist in the state.

Nonetheless, Kruger is attempting to reach citizens in the Bakken area with HIV prevention messages. In an interview with Healthline, he stated that companies involved in the oil industry don’t want public health officials inside the camps talking about HIV. They feel that such a message would stereotype the majority of men living in the camps as being at risk for HIV when that is not the case.

Social problems regarding sexual activity are growing in the state. Human trafficking has even become an issue large enough to grab the attention of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and prostitution busts are becoming more frequent.  Other diseases such as Chlamydia have also seen a rise in cases, jumping from 145 in 2008 to 237 in 2010 according to the associated press.

North Dakota still has one of the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country. But health officials like Kruger are still cautious as the population continues to grow. Kruger said that when it comes to adapting to an oil boom, other social problems such as insufficient infrastructure take priority over public health. The western portion of North Dakota statistically holds the top ranking for the highest cost of living in the nation. Indeed this will make hiring new nurses and other medical staff difficult on the promise of a public health wage.

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