Earlier today, actor Charlie Sheen confirmed shocking rumors that he is HIV positive. Both Sheen and his personal physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, appeared on the "Today" show with Matt Lauer. Both men stressed that Sheen's HIV viral load was at "undetectable" levels.
But "undetectable" does not mean he is cured of the disease. It simply means the tests that are available today cannot detect the virus at such low levels.
In a statement sent to the blogs, Dr. Huizenga indicated that Sheen came to him four years ago with HIV seroconversion sickness.
Seroconversion sickness occurs after the body's immune system sends white blood cells (T helper cells) to attack a foreign invader (HIV). The raging battle that ensues causes flu-like symptoms because HIV destroys the T helper cells by entering the cells to make copies of itself. Many infected people dismiss the symptoms as the cold or the flu.
The ongoing battle between the T-cells and HIV produces proteins called antibodies that can be detected with a blood test about 12 weeks after infection.
An HIV antibody test will always detect the antibodies for HIV whether the viral load is detectable in the blood or not.
Dr. Huizenga wrote:
"During this infection, his HIV tests "seroconverted" (acutely changed) from negative to positive. He was immediately placed on four antiretroviral drugs and his HIV viral blood levels thankfully dropped to undetectable."
The way they throw the word "undetectable" around gives the false impression that his bloodstream is clean and he has defeated the virus.
But in reality, it is possible (though the risk is very small) for Sheen to infect a sex partner if they don't practice safe sex.
The AIDS virus is constantly evolving. It is possible for the virus (even at undetectable levels) to become resistant to the drug cocktail over time and begin its deadly rampage in his body.
Read the full statement from Dr. Robert Huizenga, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCLA, below:
"Four years ago, Charlie Sheen came to see me with an upper viral infection followed by joint aches, swallowing complaints and then progressive severe headaches. During this infection, his HIV tests "seroconverted" (acutely changed) from negative to positive. He was immediately placed on four antiretroviral drugs and his HIV viral blood levels thankfully dropped to undetectable. He has tolerated his antiretroviral cocktail and by faithfully complying with the daily pills, his viral HIV load has remained consistently undetectable.
The urgent dilemma that both Charlie and I recognize is that there are 1.2 million other Americans currently living with this diagnosis. Shockingly, up to 20% of these individuals are unaware of their HIV status and sadly 60% are not adequately being treated. This leads to 50,000 new diagnosis and 18,000 HIV deaths yearly in this country.
I anticipate Charlie can save many more lives coming forward with his revelation then I could ever have aspired to as a doctor.
With Charlie remaining dedicated to his treatment regimen, I expect the HIV will only minimally - if at all - affect his predicted life expectancy."
Photo: Lee Brown/Prahl/Splash News