Healthy Living

Charlie Sheen's HIV Diagnosis

Charlie Sheen's HIV Diagnosis

Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The American actor Charlie Sheen, who most people remember as the lead actor in Two and a Half Men (before being replaced by Ashton Kutcher) and a popular tabloid fodder, broke the news on Today with Matt Lauer that he has been HIV-positive for four years. Sheen revealed that he was compelled to release his HIV status publicly to end an extortion campaign, which he claimed paid out an astounding $10 million to hide his illness.

As stated by Sheen when he first heard of the diagnosis, “It’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life.” His reaction is not uncommon, as most patients feel overwhelmingly scared, confused, angry, or heartbroken upon first hearing about an HIV diagnosis. After all, HIV is a life-changing condition, and no one is prepared enough to hear it for the first time.

Have a question aboutHIV/AIDS?Ask a doctor now

The problem is that people who are involved in Sheen’s life were less prepared for his bombshell revelation. Note that Sheen has been in the spotlight regarding drug use and sexual relationships. HIV is spread mainly by drug use and multiple sexual partners.

Charlie Sheen’s early life and career

Charlie Sheen, or Carlos Irwin Estévez, was born on September 3, 1965. His father is the famous actor Martin Sheen.

Charlie Sheen’s career in film started in 1984, when he starred in the teen drama Red Dawn. He later starred in many films, sometimes along with his father. His first appearance on TV was in Spin City. He first appeared on Two and a Half Men in 2003, where he found much success. He is rumored to have earned $1.8 million per episode.

Charlie Sheen’s troubles

In stark contrast from his father, Sheen can be considered the epitome of an infamous, tabloid Hollywood actor with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and women.

Sheen is known be an alcoholic, to an extent that he admitted on The Dr. Oz Show that he attempted to stop drinking “about 2,000” times. It is so much of a problem that his drunken rants and violent alcohol-induced incidents often filled pages of tabloid magazines and made headlines in entertainment news.

Although drinking or having a drinking problem does not necessarily increase the risk of HIV, abuse of alcohol can lead patients not to take their medications. People are more likely to skip daily medicines if they are badly intoxicated, since intoxication can lead to temporarily foggy memory.

It is also important to note that being under the influence can also expose the person to drug use or engage in unprotected sexual activity by association. Getting drunk can make a drinker prone to commit or become a victim of violence.

In addition to alcohol, Sheen also famously dabbled with harder drugs. His paycheck helped fuel his cocaine habit, but the full extent of his drug use cannot be fully known. Sheen’s relationship with cocaine and crack had been made public. It is not too clear when it first started, but the problem blew up in 2010 when Sheen trashed his hotel room that resulted in $7,000 worth of damages after a cocaine-fueled rampage. Police had to be called in, and Sheen was found passed out and was escorted to the hospital. He did not face criminal charges in that incident.

His behavior did not stop there, as the following year Sheen was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles City due to a complaint of severe abdominal pain. Reports show that Sheen partied with “pornstars and a suitcase full of cocaine.”

Lastly, Sheen has a well-known history of womanizing. Sheen is known for his relationships with pornstars. Sheen been married three times and divorced three times. He also dated or have relationships with adult film actresses Ginger Lynn, Heather Hunter, Bree Olson, Georgia Jones, and Brett Rossi, among others.

This isn’t to say that having many sexual relationships is a bad thing. However, Sheen has a poor track record of how he treats women. In fact, an article featured on Jezebel was dedicated to the actor’s history of violence against women with the starting line: “For the past 20 years, Charlie Sheen has allegedly assaulted, threatened, harassed, abused, and—in one incident—shot women.” He accidentally shot his then-fiance, Kelly Preston, in 1990. Since then, there have been many incidences and allegations where Sheen emotionally abused, hit or beat, or threatened grave harm to several women; many of them were featured in news and magazines.

What is HIV-positive status and what is AIDS?

HIV-positive status is given to people who have HIV in their system. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, eventually leads to AIDS. HIV infects and depletes white blood cells in the body. HIV infects a person and often does not cause any symptoms at first. A person with HIV will not always develop AIDS. Some infected people only develop a flu, which occurs 2 to 6 weeks after infection.

Some experience the following symptoms:

These symptoms are so common that the person may dismiss them as flu or colds. Other than that, HIV infection may not cause other visible symptoms, and therefore the patient may not have known his or her own status unless he or she received HIV testing. The latency or dormancy of HIV is a problem, as the patient may have no idea he or she has the virus and unknowingly transmit it to others.

Medicines for HIV, the anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment, work by keeping the numbers of HIV low to preserve the immune system and delay onset of AIDS. ARV treatment uses a combination of three or more drugs that kill the virus. A combination of several drugs is needed because HIV mutates rapidly and will acquire resistance if only a single drug is used. Many new medicines for HIV pack a combination of ARV drugs in a single capsule or tablet for better compliance. Use of ARV prolongs the life of people with HIV and delays onset of opportunistic infections.

Typically, AIDS develops within 10 years of initial infection unless the patient takes ARV drugs. Over time, the person’s immune system becomes so weak that it is unable to resist infections. The risk of AIDS is higher in HIV patients that take their medications infrequently.

AIDS is the term for late-stage HIV infection, and it happens when the immune system becomes too weak to defend the body against infections. The onset of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, occurs once white blood cell counts become too low or the person acquires one or more opportunistic infections.

  • The onset of AIDS or late-stage HIV causes the following symptoms:
  • Weight loss
  • High fever that lasts for weeks
  • Blurred vision
  • Night sweats
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Persistent fatigue, sometimes becoming too weak to stand, walk, or talk
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent or longstanding diarrhea
  • Appearance of white spots on tongue or mouth

Opportunistic infections are termed as such because they do not normally occur in people with healthy and robust immune systems. These infections thrive on a weakened immune system.

These infections include:

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma – Characterized by appearance of black tumors on the skin
  • Burkitt’s lymphoma – A cancer of the lymphatic system
  • Cervical cancer – Cancer of the cervix or opening of the uterus
  • Primary brain lymphoma – Appearance of cancerous tumor deep in the brain
  • Toxoplasmosis – A fungal infection of the airways
  • Cryptococcal meningitis – A serious infection of the lining of the brain
  • Esophageal candidiasis – Candida infection of the esophagus
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia – A serious lung inflammation caused by a fungus

Charlie Sheen’s HIV: Why is it important?

Sheen revealed his HIV status to the public on November 17, 2015, saying he first received the diagnosis 4 years ago. This means there is good possibility that Sheen hid his status to his sexual partners; at least 6 women were considering legal action for failure of disclosing his HIV diagnosis. There is no way to know if Sheen used protection during sex while he knew his HIV status.

Sheen’s actions and behavior can constitute a crime called criminal transmission of HIV. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this refers to people living with HIV who know their HIV status that potentially exposes others to HIV.

HIV resides in body fluids and is passed to others by contact with blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. It is transmitted to others most commonly by unprotected sex, whether done through oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. Chances of catching and transmitting HIV is higher in men who have multiple sex partners and those who uses drugs.

Drugs increase the risk of infection due to their intoxicating and mind-altering effects. If you are under the influence, you can easily lose inhibitions and become less likely to use protection or engage in safe sex. Drugs can make an individual impulsive and therefore not inclined to use a condom or other protective measures.

The two factors, use of drugs and having multiple sex partners, are significant in Charlie Sheen’s HIV case. His situation is not uncommon, as significant numbers of people with HIV are also addicted to drugs or engage in unsafe sex. 

The unique factor in Sheen’s case is the way he handled the situation. He maintained that he uses "condoms and honesty" when having sex after receiving his HIV diagnosis. There are persistent rumors that the actor has hidden his diagnosis from his sex partners and have not used any protection when having sex. Instead of disclosing his status right away, he continued to engage in risky behaviors that possibly spread the virus to others. According to an article in Mirror, the actor faced several lawsuits from at least 75 individuals whom he allegedly slept with, which include call girls, strippers, adult film actresses, men, and transsexuals. 

Sheen also seemed to downplay the problem of possibly infecting others by his recent statements. For example, a 2015 article in Mirror stated Sheen brought a doctor in an interview stating there was a “very low” chance for the actor to pass HIV to others and that "He was immediately put on treatment, strong anti-viral drugs. He's absolutely healthy." The doctor also stated that Sheen’s viral count in the bloodstream is almost undetectable.

In 2016, an article in the Daily Mail featured the actor. He said, “I was always the guy that promoted it and said you’ve got to use condoms, this and that. I was too drunk or too bored one night and here we are.” The article stated that the actor caught HIV after having two instances of unprotected sex. Sheen seemed to imply that he used protection most of the time and that infecting others with HIV is nearly impossible.

Later, another Daily Mail article stated that ”His HIV has been fully suppressed by an injection in a clinical trial” as Sheen is involved in a clinical trial for the experimental drug ’PRO-140’ that brought down numbers of HIV viruses in his body to the point of ‘no longer being detectable.’ The article is just shy of saying that Sheen is ‘healed’ of HIV infection and is no longer at risk to others. The PRO-140 drug is still in the development stages and not yet been released on the market. Unless complete clinical trials and the FDA shows otherwise, there is not yet a way to tell if PRO-140 works for HIV infection. It is not well known if Sheen has been undergoing ARV therapy.

Regarding Sheen’s former sex partners, some of them were rather fortunate. The former adult actress and ex-fiance Brett Rossi reportedly received a multi-million dollar settlement from the actor. The adult film actress Bree Olson, who lived with the actor for about a year, stated that she is not HIV-positive. Sheen’s former wife and mother of his twins, Brooke Mueller, also stated that she and the twins were not positive for HIV.

Talking about HIV: What can we learn from Charlie Sheen’s case?

There are many things in this story that are significant to people who are HIV-positive or those who know somebody with HIV. HIV can affect anybody, from famous Hollywood actors to ordinary people. HIV is brought by many things, and in the case of Charlie Sheen, by unprotected sex. It is important to note that a significant number of individuals still engage in risky or dangerous sexual practices such as not using condoms, having unprotected sex with a stranger, engaging in casual sex, and having multiple sex partners. If you engage in these activities, make sure to get tested often.

Drug use and HIV go hand in hand. Drug users are at risk of HIV because they might use dirty and contaminated syringes from other infected users. Use of drugs also makes you at risk of engaging in unprotected sex and other risky sex practices.

Another thing to know is that, unless you are born with it, you can employ measures to prevent contracting HIV. Reduce your number of sexual partners, and use protection responsibly. Don’t have sex with sex workers or with multiple partners at once. Avoid casual sex or one night stands – you will not know if any of them carry the virus.

If you are abusing drugs, especially intravenous ones, at least use your own needles and do not share syringes or needles. Make sure you are in a safe place when using drugs, and have emergency help nearby. Of course, don’t experiment with drugs in the first place.

Naturally, the perfect solution would be quitting drug use and not having multiple sex partners. Always use a condom each time you have sex unless you are in a monogamous relationship and using protection. Condom use is the best and simplest way to avoid contracting HIV. Make sure to use them consistently and correctly.

If you tested positive for HIV, among the first things health workers will do is trace your previous sexual partners. Try to recall clearly as possible. Your sexual partners, including past partners for the last 6 months or several years, need to be notified and tested too. In this way, those who registered positive will be given treatment. Make sure you cooperate. In most cases, you or partners who became positive will receive psychological counseling to deal with the new diagnosis. Of course, get treatment. Having ARV keeps HIV virus counts in your body low, and it delays the onset of AIDS. Widespread use of ARV enables HIV-positive individuals to live and be free from complications for more than 10 years. Treatment also enables patients to live a normal healthy life and are less likely to pass HIV to others.

If you have HIV, do not do what Charlie Sheen did. Disclose your status to your partner. Understand that willfully exposing others to HIV is a criminal act in many states. Currently, Charlie Sheen is not yet facing lawsuits for criminal transmission of HIV.