MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Every year, Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day.
According to the World Health Organization, AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it are an epidemic that have claimed 35 million lives.
More than 1.2 million Americans are currently living with HIV, a number that's still unfortunately growing and growing here in the south.
"We know that of new cases diagnosed in the United States, that about 45 percent of those new cases diagnosed are in the south," said Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health. "Further, if we look at the state of Alabama, we have about 13,000 patients living with HIV."
President Obama honored those leading the fight against the virus Thursday, saying an AIDS-free generation is now within our reach.
But doctors say what the most important tool in the fight is education. One in eight people don't know they have the virus, which is why it's important to know your status.
Getting tested is easier than ever before. All you have to do is take a swab, rub it along your gum lines, d rop it in a solution and wait 20 minutes for the results.
"If you're afraid of needles, you don't have to be afraid of this process," said Charity Mitchell, interim director of The Turnaround Project. "It's a very quick process and very painless. But it's all about knowing and taking the first step. I think the scariest part is not knowing. "
HIV has no cure, but if left untreated, it turns into AIDS, which is fatal.
"They may not know their status, and they may be well for a while, at least clinically, but they still have HIV and they can still transmit that before they go on to have a failure of the immune system," Landers said.
It's not all bad news in the fight against HIV.
According to the CDC, HIV cases overall have decreased among African Americans and Latinos. However, they have risen among young people age 25-29.
Many locations offer free and confidential testing.
The CDC has a tool you can use to find the near testing site near you.