Celebrities with Long-Term Disabilities - HIV/AIDS

Pictured Above: Deaths due to HIV/AIDS per million persons in 2012

Celebrities may seem untouchable, but they’re human just like us. Today, we share another blog in our series on Celebrities with Long-Term Disabilities, with a focus on HIV/AIDS. Click here to read other posts in the series, on Skin Cancer, Lyme Disease, Lupus, Diabetes, and Brain Aneurysms.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Unlike most viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely - once you have it, you have it for life. Because of this, HIV/AIDS has been a scary diagnosis to receive for the past several decades, but thanks to effective treatments and extensive medical research there's more hope for carriers than ever before. There may even be a cure on the horizon!

Untreated HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in a person’s body, making that person more susceptible to infection or infection-related cancers. HIV can eventually destroy so many of the CD4 cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. HIV progresses to its last stage, AIDS, when the patient begins suffering from serious infections or cancers.

Charlie Sheen & HIV

Much discussion around HIV is focused around a stigma of the disease based on a general lack of understanding. Many people don't realize how HIV is transmitted and even how manageable it is today. Actor Charlie Sheen is no stranger to ostracized behaviour based on his diagnosis. The celebrity went on the Today Show to share his diagnosis and experience fighting HIV.

“It’s a hard three letters to absorb,” said Sheen. Sheen had formerly kept his diagnosis under wraps, concerned that it would negatively impact his promising acting career. But after being blackmailed on more than one occasion by people close to him, Sheen took control by sharing his secret with the world. “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 may come forward and say, 'Thanks, Charlie, thanks for kicking the door open.'”

Sheen admitted to paying millions of dollars in “hush money” to the people he used to trust. After many years, he decided to share his diagnosis with the public and unburdened himself.

Freddie Mercury & HIV

Sheen is not the only celebrity who kept his HIV diagnosis a secret. Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury was diagnosed in the late 1980s when HIV had no promising treatments. He was getting frail and he decided to come off all the medication apart from painkillers,” said close friend and confidant Dave Clark.

Mercury kept his diagnosis a private one until the day before his death. Only a handful of friends and family were in the loop beforehand. “He said the next generation will be the ones to beat this,” said friend Dave Clark. “And the sad thing is if it had been 12 months later, he might have been OK when combination drug therapy first came in.”

Magic Johson & HIV

Unlike Mercury and Sheen, celebrity athlete Magic Johnson shared his diagnosis publically in the early days of his illness. Johnson was diagnosed in the early 1990s and promptly shared his diagnosis with the world, retired from basketball and committed to educating young people about AIDS, with the intent to dispel the myth that AIDS only affected the gay community.

As an AIDS awareness advocate, he also sought to educate people about the severity of the disease. He emphasized that even though it was more manageable than in previous years, it was still life-threatening.

“The important thing is this - just because I’m doing well doesn’t mean that they’re going to do well if they get HIV. A lot of people have died since I have announced. This disease is not going anywhere.” -Earvin 'Magic' Johnson

In his advocacy work, Johnson emphasized exactly how people got HIV/AIDS - something a lot of people are unaware of.

HIV Can Be Controlled

Today, it is common knowledge that HIV is transmitted through shared bodily fluids. The easiest ways to contract HIV include unprotected sexual intercourse and shared needles. No effective cure for HIV exists, but with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be controlled. HIV is treated with antiretroviral therapy or ART. Proper HIV treatment can prolong the lives of those with the disease, maintain their health and reduce the chance of them sharing the virus with others. Many people with HIV lead a healthy and long life, especially if they start treatment before the virus progresses.

Testing is easy, just ask your healthcare provider for a test or visit a medical clinic or a community health center or hospital. You can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.

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