SPRINGFIELD, Mo.-- About 1,000 people have tested positive for HIV in the Ozarks.
Another 200 or more have not been tested and don't know they do in fact have the disease. Over 50% of those people are over the age of 45.
"Just like they do blood count or maybe a blood sugar screening, HIV testing needs to be part of a regular physical check-up," said Lynne Meyerkord.
Lynne Meyerkord is the Executive Director at Aids Project of the Ozarks. She says HIV isn't a moral issue, but rather a public health issue. She says that we must break down the stigma associated with this disease.
"When someone's first diagnosed, almost always their first thought is they are going to die soon," said Meyerkord.
Meyerkord says that isn't true, especially if caught early. She says, as we age, we are at an even greater risk of contracting HIV. Meyerkord says people tend to think of HIV as a younger person's disease, but it's not.
"We tend to not look at old people as sexual beings because they can't get pregnant anymore, so don't need to worry about that a lot of folks ya know their lives have changed, maybe their partner has passed away, maybe they got divorced and it's normal to want to date and to have a companion," said Meyerkord.
She says HIV does not discriminate, it is spread through semen, blood, vaginal fluids, breast milk, and used needles.
"If you are sexually active use condoms or some other type of barrier. The opioid epidemic is for sure here in the Ozarks, do not use needles," said Meyerkord.
Meyerkord says while HIV is not a death sentence anymore, it is still a big deal. She says with new medicines created in the past five years, there is hope to end the epidemic.
"Another incredible breakthrough is that if I have HIV and I am on medication, I cannot transmit the virus to someone else because it suppresses the viral loud where it's to the point where it can't be transmitted," said Meyerkord.
Both the Greene County Health Department and the Aids Project of the Ozarks do HIV testing for free.