By Stephanie Stahl
“I am in fact HIV-positive.”
Charlie Sheen made the revelation on the Today show, saying he has had HIV for 4 years.
“He probably waited because there’s still so much stigma about the diagnosis,” said Dr. Robert Winn, the medical director of the Mazzoni LGBT Health Center, which treats hundreds of patients with HIV.
Dr. Winn says it’s no longer a death sentence. “It’s not curable, but it’s completely treatable,” he said.
There are medications used to treat HIV. It is contracted through unprotected sex or drug use with needles. While predominant among gay men, anyone can contract it.
Magic Johnson, who announced in 1991 that he was infected, says the virus is no longer detected in his blood. Same with Sheen, who didn’t say how it was contracted.
Sheen admitted he has had unprotected sex twice since the diagnosis, but since he’s being treated, the risk of spreading HIV is very low.
Dr. Winn said, “You can get that viral level in your bloodstream so low that you can’t then transmit it to other people. So there’s two good things about treatment. It makes you healthy and then, two, it protects your partners.”
But of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV, many don’t know they’re infected. Other than a quick blood test, people wouldn’t know they’re HIV positive.
“Correct, wouldn’t know, wouldn’t have symptoms, no symptoms at all,” Dr. Wynn said.
HIV is diagnosed with a quick and simple blood test, but experts say because of the stigma, many are reluctant to get screened. Doctors are now seeing a growing number of people in the teens and twenties contracting the virus.
For more information about HIV and HIV testing in our area, click here: http://www.aidsfundphilly.org/awareness/facts