HUNTSVILLE Ala. (WHNT) — It’s been more than 40 years since the first AIDS case was reported — and since then, the virus has claimed millions of lives across the world and over a million here in the United States.

Cases in Alabama are growing, but have garnered limited attention after the focus shifted to COVID-19.

“We’ve lost a lot of people to this disease, and if we forget that HIV is happening, we are not respecting and honoring people who experienced this battle and this fight way at the beginning forty-one years ago,” said Erin Bortel, director of health education at Thrive Alabama.

The globe recognized World AIDS Day on December 1. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), there are approximately 38,000 new infection in the U.S. every year.

ADPH says there have been 700 new HIV cases reported in the state of Alabama every year since 2017.

The Black male population in the state continues to be affected the most by the epidemic. However, new treatments and preventative medicine have reduced the risk of infection and expanded life expectancy. 

“We’re almost at a point where it’s not an imminent threat because if you have HIV, you can live a long and healthy and fulfilling life,” explained Dr. Wes Stubblefield with ADPH.

Bortel says she understands why the public has focused on COVID-19 while HIV and AIDS have taken a backseat, but the conversations need to continue about the danger the virus presents. 

“We have a huge opportunity to let people know that this is still an issue that we should think about, and we should talk about and not just adults, and not just in a doctor’s office but everyone,” Bortel continued.

ADPH reported the age population most affected by HIV virus is 13 to 24 years old.