BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - One in 97 people in Alabama will be diagnosed with HIV at some point during his or her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state ranks as the 13th highest risk in the country. According to the CDC's ranking, top states and jurisdictions include District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Delaware.
"Infectious diseases, like HIV, follow poverty," said Josh Bruce, Education Director for Birmingham Aids Outreach.
"And the south is the poorest in the nation."
Bruce said other reasons for HIV's prevalence in the region include lack of education and funding, allowing misconceptions to persist.
When asked about the most comment misunderstandings he encounters, Bruce says, "It only affects dirty evil gay people, it's not going to happen to me, I'm not at danger, I'm not doing anything to put me at risk."
"Negative stigma in the south is a huge deal," Bruce said. "People are afraid to be tested for HIV or any other STDs because they are afraid that people might think they are doing something wrong or that they are dirty or something."
But given the prevalence of HIV, Bruce says everyone should get tested.
"HIV is not a death sentence like it used to be. We can get you into care, get you on medication and you'll live a long healthy life and die of something not related to HIV," said Bruce.
An HIV test is free at Birmingham Aids Outreach. Patients have the choice between a finger prick test or a mouth swab. Results from the tests are available in 20 minutes.
Bruce says most insurance companies cover the cost of treatment, and help is available for those who cannot afford medication.
"Just do it – I know it's scary. It's hard. Just come in," Bruce encouraged.
"Get tested so you'll know your status, and you can protect yourself. If you find out you're HIV positive, HIV is not a death sentence, we can get you on medication and everything is going to be fine."