With everything going on in the world at the moment it is hard to keep track of what is happening, but one thing we have all heard is that the actor Charlie Sheen has come forward to say that he is HIV positive. Many said that it wasn’t surprising to hear, given the lifestyle he leads, and other said it was “inevitable”, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been living with this virus for the last four years, and he has already admitted that it has dramatically changed his life.
People are scrambling to get interviews with him to ask the questions they most want to know, but in a bold move on Tuesday he went onto the TODAY show with his doctor to explain exactly what kind of HIV he has, and just how it is going to change his life.
Here on Escort Scotland we take a look at how Charlie Sheen is fighting the stigma surrounding HIV and helping to bring the subject into the spotlight to show that it isn’t the death sentence that it used to be.
HIV and AIDS aren’t the same thing
For far too long, people have used HIV and AIDS interchangeably, as though they are the same thing. After all, HIV leads to AIDS, so they are one and the same, right? Well, Sheen’s diagnosis and subsequent interviews have shown that, actually, they are different.
Charlie’s physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, explained what Charlie has. “Charlie has contracted the HIV virus. He was immediately put on treatment, strong antiviral drugs, which have suppressed the virus.” When prompted by the interviewer, he confirms that Sheen has an almost undetectable level of HIV in his blood.
The interviewer then states that some media outlets have been speculating that Charlie has AIDS. For the most part, I think they will be saying AIDS as they don’t have a clue what the different between the two is, but Sheen’s doctor states that “Charlie does not have AIDS” and goes on to explain more about AIDS.
“AIDS is a condition when the HIV virus markedly suppresses the immune system and you’re susceptible to rare difficult cancers and infection.” Basically, AIDS has no cure and can make your body so weak that catching the flu and getting pneumonia is very likely, and since your immune system is down it can kill you.
HIV is a killer…
When HIV was first discovered and the adverts were in newspapers and on your TV screen, HIV was dubbed as a killer and an epidemic. It was deadly, and people panicked about it.
However, this was back when we didn’t know as much about it. Since then, scientists and doctors have studied the virus, learned how it behaves and what it can do to you, and they have also discovered that you can treat it with the right medication and medical care in place.
As we said earlier, his physician explained that Charlie was immediately put onto treatment to help him. In the interview, Charlie said that he takes four pills each day and, as far as his doctor is concerned, his HIV diagnosis isn’t the worrying factor. To them, he is perfectly healthy if you were to look at the HIV.
The doctor states that HIV is not going to shorten Charlie’s life because the treatment he is getting is suppressing it so much. As long as Sheen continues to take his medication each day, he will be able to live a long and healthy life. HIV isn’t going to be the death of him.
…it is really the stigma that kills
The problem isn’t with the HIV itself, but more the stigma that surrounds it. As Charlie said: “it’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life” and the main reason for that is the reaction of others.
For Sheen, he found himself being threatened with blackmail by others who were eager to expose him. This reaction made him feel as though he wasn’t ready for the world to know his secret, and that is why he kept it to himself.
There is also the fact that Charlie’s lifestyle for the last few years has been difficult to manage. In his interview, he suggests that his behaviour was as a result of the difficult diagnosis he faced, which suggests that it isn’t the HIV itself that does the damage, but actually the way others react to it that can.
Dr. Robert Huizenga stated in the interview that he and the other staff are “petrified about Charlie” because his depression and substance abuse could make him stop taking his pills and leave himself at serious risk.
Having sex with someone HIV positive means you will get it
The stigma surrounding HIV makes it difficult for those with the virus to open up about their diagnosis. If they do tell a partner about it, they might freak out and think that they will have caught it, even if they only shared a kiss. In truth, as Charlie’s physician explains: “Individuals who are optimally treated, who have undetectable viral levels, who responsibly use protection, have an incredibly low – it’s incredibly rare to transmit the virus”.
If you are responsible with your medication and treatment and are having safe sex, as everyone should be doing anyway, the chances of passing on the virus are very low, as has been proven in a number of studies. However, if you are concerned then you can get a test done to put your mind at ease. While it used to be that you might have to wait from anywhere between three months to a whole year to get accurate results, you can get a test done from four weeks of the potential infection, which will certainly help to put your mind at ease.
The main problem with HIV is the stigma surrounding it. It makes people unwilling to get themselves tested and treated, and as a result it is estimated that one in five people in the UK are completely unaware that they have the disease. It can be treated if you do, and like Charlie you will be able to live a long and happy life if you get the right treatment.
Don’t just take our word for it, though. You can join in the discussion on the Escort Scotland forum, or you could leave a comment in the box below if you have more questions about HIV or AIDS.