Charlie Sheen is HIV+, Here’s What The Diagnosis Means
Charlie Sheen’s announcement shows how much has changed in the public conversation on HIV.
Charlie Sheen revealed his HIV status, the stigma, his struggle to stay positive on the Today show to host Matt Lauer.
Coming out of the HIV closet, the actor who is often in the headlines might face multiple lawsuits, but the announcement has been the most mature and responsible thing he’s done in years.
I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people and hopefully with what we’re doing today others will come forward and say, ‘Thanks Charlie’.Charlie Sheen, Actor
He’s not alone – nearly 37 million people around the world and 2.1 million Indians are living with the virus, his public confession shows how far we’ve come in understanding and accepting HIV.
From screening to treatment options, the scenario has drastically changed since Rock Hudson, the first Hollywood star to go public with the disease.
Here are 5 things you must know about living with HIV today:
1) HIV: A Chronic Disease, But No Longer a Death Sentence
The reaction to Sheen’s status was far more measured than the shock that Americans expressed when Hollywood’s A-lister, Rock Hudson, revealed he was suffering from AIDS in 1985. Thirty years later, with the discovery of sophisticated antiretroviral treatments (ART), people can live longer, fuller lives.
An estimated one million people are living on ART drugs in India.
There are multiple treatment options available today. Till the 90s, there was just one drug, AZT, for treating the HIV virus. In 2015, there are more than 10 FDA approved, targetted drugs with minimal side-effects which prevent the virus from multiplying and attacking the healthy cells.
2) Drugs Are Easier to Monitor, Safer To Use
The ART drugs are cocktail medicines. In the past, patients had to take a combination of pills and injections, some before food, some after, and a couple with meals. Now new formulations mean four drugs are combined into one and can be taken anytime, side-effects like diarrhoea and cholesterol are minimal.
3) What Exactly is “Undetectable” HIV Which Sheen Has
Sheen’s doctor, Dr Robert Huizenga also came on the Today show and explained that, with the advent of newer drugs, HIV gets suppressed to the point that it cannot be detected in the blood. So there is a very small chance that people on treatment can pass the virus to someone else. Also, the virus isn’t powerful enough to attack the patient’s immune system, so it becomes more of a chronic disease and people go on to live regular lives.
4) There is Still No Cure
The virus can be suppressed but it doesn’t go away. If people miss the drug, the “viral load”, or the amount of virus in the bloodstream shoots up again. This puts them at the risk of developing AIDS and of sexually transmitting the virus to others.
5) Charlie Sheen’s Ten Million Dollar Worth of Stigma!
The main reason why Charlie Sheen chose to come out of the HIV closet is because he was being blackmailed about his positive status. For months, tabloids have reported that an unnamed Hollywood actor was diagnosed with HIV or AIDS and might have misled his sex partners about his status.
Sheen said that over the course of the past four years, he’s dealt with “shakedowns” from people threatening to leak his diagnosis to the media. He recalled an incident, where a prostitute took a picture of his anti-viral medication in his bathroom and threatened to sell it to the tabloids. He admittedly paid more than $10 million through the years to people who blackmailed him.
Ten million dollars is more than most of us would make or even see in our lifetime. The fact that Sheen shelled that kind of money to keep his status private indicates the level of stigma still attached to HIV in 2015.
In an instant, the troubled star has become the face of persons living with HIV. He might not be the advocate you asked for, but at least he’s renewed the public talk on HIV and put the focus on treatment.
Till date, HIV has claimed more than 34 million lives around the world. Hopefully, Charlie Sheen’s confession will help remove the stigma for everyone living with a ‘positive’ status (and their loved ones).
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