What Charlie Sheen's Revelation Means For HIV Stigma In San Diego
Another item in the news yesterday was the actor Charlie Sheen revealed he was being treated for HIV. Apparently the revolution was shocking to some possibly because people aren't as aware as they used to be about the risk of contracting HIV and AIDS rejoining the is Dr. Dan Lee of the one clinic, providing specialized healthcare to those infected with HIV. Dr. Lee, welcome to the program. Thank you. Also Ian Johnson who is living with HIV. Special events director for the San Diego LGB T community center. Welcome to the program Dr. Lee were you surprised that one actor revealing he was HIV positive could cause headlines quick No. I think since probably Magic Johnson back in 1991, that was really the last time that occurred, that we heard about anyone that has been in the news that has HIV. So you know, that is what, 24 years. I'm not at all surprised that an announcement like this would garner such attention. So should we assume that that is because no one of any celebrity status is HIV-positive? Or because there is still a great deal of stigma attached? I think it's definitely the whole issue of stigma that HIV still exist. I think many people choose not to disclose their status for a variety of reasons, certainly stigma is a big one. Dr. Lee can you tell us what the infection rates look like in San Diego County. Are they going up or down peers Over the last few years the rates have been going down overall. It depends on what subsegment of society you are looking at. We are actually seeing increased rates and younger use. -- Use. At the other end we also see if the other end of the spectrum for people who are older who are getting infected. As well as, depending on where you are in the country, women of African-American descent, Latino women, are disproportionately affected by HIV. Here in San Diego County, just because we lived closer to the border, I think we see quite a few Latino women, versus if you're talking about the southern US. There is a big epidemic in African-American women. HIV and AIDS has been well known. The importance of getting tested, the treatments available now are, and the way to try to prevent contracting this virus, it's been known for decades now. What would you attribute the rise in cases in some isolated populations? Is definitely a complex issue. I think while some in the media may be a where, certainly those in healthcare are aware of the fact that HIV is a much more manageable disease and we can actually key people living long times. I think it is still not common knowledge to the general public and the cases I see -- newly affected, or were not aware of how well we can do with HIV. I think programs like this, are vital to really get out the information. I am hoping that the story with Charlie Sheen will continue to bring more like to this issue Down Ian Johnson, you been living with this for 15 years or so. It's only recently you spoke about it in the LGB T weekly. Why did you decide to take that step? I think maybe over a decade many of my close friends and family, they knew I was living with HIV. There was always a stigma that is attached to it. I just, I have seen the side comments happening about HIV and people automatically making it and AIDS issue. I don't have AIDS, I have HIV. With the aim -- advancements from when I was first diagnosed, the conversations I was having was do I start medication. Will my body be able to handle this, to where I am now. I'm on antiretrovirals and it's undetectable. Why I came out in September was to let people know it is okay to be living with HIV. You look at me, the stereotypes of what people think HIV are, I don't have those stereotypes. I am living a long healthy life. I am probably, in regard to sex, if someone were to have sex with me with protection, is safer to have sex with me than someone who has not had an HIV test in over six months. I want our listeners to know you look very healthy.[laughter] Dr. Lee, we heard a lot recently about, and Ian engined undetectable HIV, what does that mean? When we say someone is undetectable, what we mean is that there viral load is undetectable. The viral load represents how much virus is in the bloodstream. What we can test is mainly, right now in the bloodstream. What that means is being on the HIV medications can help to clear the bloodstream. It doesn't mean that you are completely cured. HIV can still exist in other places, lymph nodes, the brain, liver, other places where the HIV medications cannot get. It does not mean that you are cured but at least it means we cannot detect it in the bloodstream. EN, when a celebrity goes public, as we heard from Dr. Lee there haven't been that many, that they have the HIV. Do you think that changes the way the public receives this disease in any way? Well. I do think whenever anybody comes forward and actually says out loud I am living with HIV, it is an amazing thing. It takes courage, no matter what the cause and why they are doing it. I think the media right now, we're sitting here having a conversation about this. It's a matter of education. I think the media has a responsibility to handle that and get the facts educate people about being on medications, prep, those kinds of things. No matter who the celebrity is I appreciate them speaking out do you see a time Dr. Lee considering the advances in treatment for HIV, where people will feel as relaxed about relating their HIV status as perhaps saying I have diabetes. Whatever that long-term kind of illness, that can be controlled. On some level, I think we are, we are kind of their in the sense of HIV being a manageable disease, like diabetes or hypertension. But it really does come down to the issue about stigma. I think each individual person has to develop their comfort level in disclosing, at least being honest about it. It is also a personal issue. I can also understand why some people choose not to be as open. That really the reasons for not disclosing is really fear. Fear of retribution, fear of not being wanted, not being loved. Fear of being alone. The list goes on and on. So while I think that stories like this with Charlie Sheen may help long-term, to bring some more malady to being HIV-positive, it is still dependent on each individual to kind of deal with that issue. And finally, I want to and not on the word fear, but also to recognize that it is fear that keeps a lot of people from being tested. I know that you wanted to say a few words about the importance of people getting tested Dr. Lee. Thank you Maureen. Absolutely. The biggest thing that we would like to get people to do is to be tested. The CDC cannot -- came out with guidelines to suggest that all doctors should actually be testing all of their patients. However, that implementation of that has not really happened. I would question your audience and to ask themselves, as their doctor ever asked them about being HIV tested. I would guarantee that not many have. What we know is that the more people that know about their HIV status, the sooner we can get them on treatment, the sooner that we can help to prolong their lives. These days, patients can live very much a normal life, with HIV. That is the message that I hope to get out there I want to thank you both very much. I've been speaking with Dr. Dan Lee of the Owen clinic and Ian Johnson, director for the LGB T center in San Diego. Thank you both very much.
Actor Charlie Sheen announced Tuesday that he's been living with HIV for four years.
The revelations were shocking to some. But unlike the AIDS panic in the 1980s and 90s, HIV today isn't a death sentence.
Dan Lee, clinical professor of medicine at UC San Diego, said the last time a celebrity of Sheen’s stature spoke out was in 1991 when NBA star Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive.
“That’s 24 years ago,” Lee told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. “I’m not surprised at all that an announcement like this would garner such attention.”
Lee said it isn’t common knowledge that people with HIV can still live long, healthy lives.
“HIV is a much more manageable disease,” he said. “I’m hoping that the story with Charlie Sheen will continue to bring more light to this issue.”
Ian Johnson, events coordinator at the San Diego LGBT Community Center has been living with HIV for more than 10 years. He appreciated Charlie Sheen speaking out.
“It’s OK to be living with HIV,” Johnson said. “It’s safer to have sex with me than with someone who has not had an HIV test in over six months.”