Former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen divulged on the TODAY show Tuesday morning that he is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). And while it can impact everyday life, it is not the be-all and end-all disease that it once was in the 80's.
Former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen divulged on the TODAY show Tuesday morning that he is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). And while it can impact everyday life, it is not the be-all and end-all disease that it once was in the 80’s.
Sheen revealed that he was diagnosed with HIV roughly four years ago, but he didn’t think that’s what it was at first. After cluster headaches, migraines, and severe sweating, he was hospitalized with what he thought was a brain tumor. “I thought it was over,” Sheen said in his interview with Matt Lauer. However, after a series of tests, the HIV diagnosis was confirmed. “It’s a hard three letters to absorb,” he said.
An analysis conducted from 2007 to 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 0.39% of people ages 18 to 59 in the United States are HIV-positive. Men are three times more likely to be infected than woman (0.61% vs. 0.16%).
Although the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is not at the level that it was when the virus was first discovered in 1983, a diagnosis can be accompanied by personal attacks. Sheen admitted that on at least one occasion, he invited a prostitute to his house and after a sexual encounter she went into the bathroom and took a picture of his antiretroviral medication. She threatened to sell the image to the tabloids if he didn’t pay her, and according to Sheen, this occurred after he had told her that they would no longer see each other anymore.
But this wasn’t the only extortion that the actor suffered. Sheen specified that these blackmails were more about people using the information against him as opposed to a result of them contracting the disease from him. Although he didn’t give an exact count for how many people he had to pay off to keep his secret, some were deep in his inner circle and the amount of money was “enough to bring it into the millions” — upwards of $10 million, he later verified. When Lauer asked if he is still paying some of the people off, Sheen said, “Not after today I’m not.”
Charlie Sheen appeared on TODAY on November 17, 2015 with Dr. Robert Huizenga.
A question on everyone’s mind might be: Has Charlie transmitted the virus to anyone? Lauer asked and Sheen responded “Impossible.” Now you may be thinking… how? There are certain patients who are referred to as “elite controllers.” These people are infected with HIV, but their bodies naturally sustain high CD4 counts and undetectable viral load without antiretroviral therapy. Elite controllers make up about one in every 200 patients, according to one report. While we don’t know if Sheen is one of these people, there are other ways do successful suppress the virus to undetectable levels. With antiretroviral therapy (ART), infected CD4 cells can go dormant so that they don’t produce HIV throughout the body. In fact, medication can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood so that it never progresses to AIDS at all.
Sheen’s doctor, Robert Huizenga, MD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) assistant professor of clinical medicine, spoke during a later segment of the interview. He referenced Sheen’s earlier statement that transmitting the virus was “impossible” and specified that the chances are not at zero, but they’re incredibly low due to his treatment. Huizenga explained that upon diagnosis, Sheen was immediately put on “strong antiretroviral drugs” and they “suppressed the virus to the point that he is absolutely healthy from that vantage.” He went on to say that he is the most concerned about the substance abuse and depression associated with the disease as opposed to what the virus can do in terms of shortening his life, “because it’s not going to.”
Sheen didn’t detail exactly what medications he’s taking, but he did confirm that it’s the ‘triple cocktail’ and said that he takes four pills each day. Also, his doctor confirmed that Sheen does not have AIDS — a rumor that had been circulating the news as of recently.
When HIV first came onto the scene, some considered it a death sentence. We simply didn’t have the technology and medications that we have today. But that is far from the case. Researchers are constantly discovering new ways to better manage the disease. Recently a potential drug got a thumbs up in women during a phase III clinical trial and just before that a preventive drug showed to be completely effective. So while HIV is not something someone would choose to have, it certainly doesn’t deserve the deadly stigma that many still associate it with.
Sheen concluded: “I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people and hopefully with what we’re doing today and others will come forward and say, ‘Thanks, Charlie.’”
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