In an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer, Charlie Sheen revealed a crucial fact about his health status – he is HIV positive. The 50-year-old actor described the disease as “a hard three letters to absorb” and a huge turning point in his life.

Sheen finally decided to reveal that he had been struggling with HIV for four years to put a stop to media rumors and the people who had been shockingly blackmailing him to keep the news quiet.

He explained that he took four pills a day, but the main fight was not to keep the HIV at bay but to avoid relapsing into substance abuse and depression.

“I don’t aim to become the poster man for this. But I will not shun away from responsibilities and opportunities that drive me to help others”.

What Is HIV AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It basically damages and weakens particular cells of the adaptive immune system and makes the body less capable of fending off disease causing pathogens. It is fairly common in Africa, Haiti and certain parts of Asia.

Even though HIV is categorized as a sexually transmitted disease, it can also spread via contaminated blood, or from mother to baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. There is no potential cure for AIDS, but medications can significantly decrease its progression.

Transmission

HIV is spread via bodily fluids – infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions. Hugging, kissing and shaking hands do not spread the virus, and neither do water, air or insect bites.

HIV infection can mainly occur in the following ways:

  • Sexual Intercourse – this includes vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected individual. In oral sex, the virus can enter the body via mouth sores or lesions.
  • Blood Transfusions – screening blood in hospitals has lowered this risk to a minimum, however it is still a possibility.
  • Sharing Hypodermic Needles And Syringes – this could transfer infected blood to a healthy individual. Moreover, intravenous drug sharing also increases the risk of other infectious diseases such as hepatitis.
  • Pregnancy And Breastfeeding – the virus can travel via the placenta and through breast milk. Receiving treatment for HIV during pregnancy significantly lowers this risk.

Symptoms Of HIV Infection – Acute And Chronic Phases

The symptoms of HIV differ as the disease progresses. Mostly people develop flu-like symptoms within a month or so of being infected. This stage is known as acute HIV infection and can last for weeks. Possible signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache and muscle/joint aches
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Swelling of lymph glands, mainly around the neck

Even though the symptoms during acute infection generally go unnoticed, the amount of HIV in the body (viral load) is extremely high. This causes the virus to spread easily during primary infections, leading to clinical latent infection, or chronic HIV infection. Symptoms usually involve a persistent swelling of the lymph nodes and nothing more. However, the virus continues to infect cells of the immune system.

The clinical latent stage usually lasts for about 10 years or more if antiretroviral therapy is not given. Some people progress to more severe symptoms sooner.

Early Symptomatic HIV Infection

As the virus continues to divide and invade immune cells, mild infections and chronic symptoms may begin to appear. These include:

  • Fever and fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea and weight loss
  • Oral yeast infection (thrush)
  • Shingles (herpes zoster)

Progression To AIDS

If no treatment is received, the HIV infection ultimately progressed to AIDS in about 10 years. By this time, the immune system has become severely comprised and the body is prone to develop many opportunistic infections that could prove to be fatal.

Signs and symptoms of these infections could include:

  • Recurring fever
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent lesions or white spots on the tongue or inside the mouth
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Rashes or bumps on the skin

Treatment

Despite being untreatable, HIV AIDS is indeed manageable. A variety of drugs are used in combination to control the progression of the disease. These anti-HIV drugs block the spread of the virus in various ways. The best treatment regime involves using a combination of at least three different drugs from about two different classes. This prevents the creation of HIV-resistant strains.

Since these drugs are to be taken daily for the rest of one’s life, possible side-effects may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakening of the bones and loss of bone mineral density
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Abnormal blood glucose levels

Other Remedies

Apart from medical interventions, there are a number of ways to deal with HIV infections. The basic idea is to keep the immune system as healthy and energetic as possible. Some of these regimes include:

  • Eating Healthy – focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Avoid Certain Foods – unpasteurized dairy products and raw seafood, eggs and meat should be avoided, since foodborne illnesses can become extremely severe in patients infected with HIV
  • Get Immunized – prevent getting opportunistic infections such as flu and pneumonia. Also, avoid live vaccines (containing live virus), since these can be dangerous for those with an already compromised immune system.
  • Be Careful With Pets And Animals – certain animals carry parasites that could cause infections. Cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis, reptiles carry salmonella, and birds carry the fungus cryptococcus or histoplasmosis. Maintaining hygiene and minimal contact are key measures.