Although they've grown up with a wealth of information about HIV/AIDS, today's youth aren't necessarily well-informed about sexually transmitted diseases, according to Charleen Davidson, executive director of Lethbridge's HIV Connection Society.
"There's still a great deal of ignorance," she said, especially since kids can find all sorts of myths and misinformation on the Internet and not all of them receive sexual education in school.
"If you don't want your kids hearing about it in school, that puts them at higher risk if you're not going to talk to them."
Some mistakenly believe that AIDS is "an old person's disease" or that there's a cure, Davidson said.
The local not-for-profit organization is hoping to dispel those myths and raise public awareness this World AIDS Day today by creating the largest possible "human red ribbon" at Galt Gardens this evening.
The public is invited to hold a candle to help form an AIDS awareness ribbon in the downtown park starting at 6:30 p.m.
It's the first time the organization's annual World AIDS Day events have gone beyond a traditional candlelight vigil - a move Davidson hopes will garner more public interest for the cause.
"AIDS is not an African disease. It's a global pandemic. It affects everyone, it's everywhere, so that includes Lethbridge and a lot of people don't seem to understand that," she said.
About 71,300 Canadians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2011, including about 4,400 Albertans, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
That number continues to rise, up from about 64,000 Canadians living with the incurable disease in 2008.
There aren't any statistics available for the number of people in southern Alberta who are living with HIV/AIDS, but Davidson said aboriginal people are often disproportionately affected.
About 12 per cent of new cases of HIV reported in Canada in 2011 afflicted aboriginal people, and the overall infection rate was 3.5 times higher for aboriginals than for non-aboriginals in Canada, according to Public Health Agency data.
"Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected in this region, but we also have two reserves right here and aboriginal people tend not to get proper health services in the first place. But it affects everyone," she said.
"It doesn't pick on a race or a belief or gender or sexuality. It affects everybody. It follows behaviours."
The HIV Connection is pushing to make testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections available to everyone in the area. Currently, Lethbridge's sexual health centre offers testing to those under 25.
"It's certainly something that we are very aware of and that we are working towards and optimistic that we'll have something in the near future, maybe," Davidson said.