A day after a swirl of tabloid stories, former "Two And A Half Men" star Charlie Sheen revealed on "The Today Show" that he is HIV positive.
The Tuesday morning (Nov. 17) interview was an attempt to tamp down what Sheen, 50, called a "barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories."
"I'm here to admit that I am in fact HIV positive," Sheen said. The actor was diagnosed around four years ago, but is not sure how he contracted the virus, which is transmitted through unprotected sex, contact with blood, urine, semen or other bodily fluids, or the sharing of injection drug equipment.
"It started with what I thought was a series of cluster headaches," he told host Matt Lauer. "I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought it was over." After a battery of tests, doctors told the actor about his status. He said it was difficult to hear.
"It's a hard three letters to absorb," he said. "It's a turning point in one's life." Sheen noted that he's paid "millions" to people he thought he could trust to keep the news out of the headlines, money he said they took from his five children and granddaughter. In a letter to Lauer, Sheen wrote that he had protected sex with a number of "unsavory and insipid types" (what Lauer proposed were prostitutes), and, regardless of their reputations, he always "led with condoms and honesty."
Asked if he knowingly or unknowingly transmitted HIV to someone since his diagnosis, Sheen emphatically said "impossible," noting that he's had unprotected sex with two people since finding out but that both were "warned ahead of time" and were under the care of his personal physician.
"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,'" he said, calling the admission a "relief."
Sheen, whose wild reputation over the years has included admitted bouts of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as a public reputation for hiring prostitutes, appeared on the show with his physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, who said as soon as Sheen was diagnosed he was place on strong antiviral drugs to suppress the virus to the point where "he is absolutely healthy from that vantage." Huizenga noted, however, that there is no current cure for HIV.
Huizenga said at this point his biggest concern for Sheen is substance abuse and depression, not HIV, which he said is at an "undetectable level" in the actor's blood. He also stressed that Sheen does not have AIDS, a condition where the HIV virus "markedly suppresses the immune system and you're susceptible to rare, difficult cancers and infections. Charlie has none of those... He does not have AIDS."
When Lauer asked Huizenga if Sheen's claim that it is "impossible" for him to transmit HIV to sexual partners during protected sex was accurate, the UCLA physician said that patients who are "optimally treated," responsibly use protection and have an undetectable viral load have an "incredibly low" transmission rate. It's not zero, but a "very, very low number." Sheen, who is taking a cocktail of four drugs a day to combat the infection, said he has stopped abusing drugs, but still occasionally drinks.
"Perhaps the freedom of today might lead to that as well," Sheen said of a completely drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle.
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