The fight to end AIDS hasn’t paused, we may have just been failing to pay attention. That is, until we woke up Tuesday to actor Charlie Sheen revealing his HIV-positive status to Matt Lauer on the Today Show. But while Sheen was clearing up the rumors about his HIV diagnosis, saying he made the announcement to end a smear campaign and over $10 million extortion efforts, it is worth stating that while the HIV/AIDS epidemic has taken many lives, there are also many people with the HIV virus who continue to live.
MUST READ:Charlie Sheen Reveals He Is HIV Positive
First, some facts:
– HIV is a virus and particular exposure to it can lead to infection. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The name describes the virus: it infects humans only and it attacks the immune system, rendering it deficient and unable to work as effectively as it should.
– While HIV is a virus that may cause an infection, AIDS is a condition or a syndrome. Being infected with HIV can lead to having AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
It’s important to know that an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Dozens of drugs are on the market now to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and according to Dr. Latisha Rowe, MD, MBA, researchers are being aggressive about their approach in the search for a more effective treatments and a cure.
“The National Institute of Health’s Division of AIDS and Infectious Disease Services has pledged $6.6 million into the “kick and kill” strategy for the cure,” explains Dr. Rowe. “The hope is that researchers can use drugs to bring the virus out of hiding and then create targeted therapies for the disease. This is very promising because for years the goal was always to keep the virus as dormant and quiet as possible, and now researchers are thinking outside of the box. We are waking the virus up to attack it.”
But with most medical treatments comes a cost, and it’s widely thought that it’s some special brand of health care that the rich and famous like Charlie Sheen or Magic Johnson, (who is going strong after he revealed his HIV positive status over 20 years ago), can afford. That’s just not the case. According to reports, Johnson takes the same kinds of drugs that are available to other HIV patients in the developed world, and increasingly in impoverished nations in Africa and Asia, where the disease still runs rampant. Many people have lived with HIV even longer than Johnson.
“I think anyone who acknowledges that they have the disease and seeks treatment early stands a good chance of living a healthy life,” says Dr. Rowe. “But even with the advances in treatment, over a million individuals died from HIV in recent years. People should understand that even though we have made significant progress in treatment for each person as an individual the odds may or may not be in your favor.”
According to research and estimates by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50,000 people get infected with HIV each year in the United States, and about 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2012, the most recent year this information was available. Of those people, about 12.8 percent do not know they are infected. And equally disturbing is the number of people that still die from AIDS. In the United States, about 13,712 people diagnosed with AIDS died in 2012.
While Sheen is certainly not the first celebrity to open up about his HIV status, there are positive repercussions that come with his announcement.
“Too often I see patients who truly believe they don’t need to be tested,” Dr. Rowe says. “I hope that celebrities coming out will help see that HIV is still here and is still rampant in a sense.”
Dr. Rowe adds that HIV and the right medications doesn’t mean your quality of life stays the same, “You will have to take medications for the rest of your life and these medications will have side effects. That’s the part no one talks about.”
Yet even without modern drugs, in rare instances, an HIV-positive person can manage on their own to keep AIDS at bay. These “long-term nonprogressors” or “elite controllers,” estimated at as few as one in 500, have lived for decades with HIV, despite not being on antiretroviral therapy.
Researchers continue to study long-term nonprogressors for get insights on HIV resistance that could help the 35 million people battling the virus worldwide.
“I am an optimist so I believe an AIDS-free generation is possible, but we have a little way to go. We need to talk about it more amongst family and friends, in churches and schools, not just when there is a headline,” says Dr. Rowe. “We need everyone to get tested routinely so we eradicate the stigma with getting tested. We need to encourage women to carry their own condoms, the same way they carry contraception. We need to educate young men, that your partners’ status is not your status. We have a lot of work to do, but it can be done. I believe the cusp is within our reach.”