NOV 28, 2015 11:27 AM PST

HIV/AIDS: Facts vs. Myths

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Charlie Sheen, 50, recently divulged on national television that he is HIV positive. Along with personal recounts of his sexual activities, Sheen disclosed that he's been paying people in the sum of millions to keep his diagnosis a secret.

HIV is a Human Immunodeficiency Virus that gradually attacks the body's immune system. Transmitted through infected bodily fluids like blood or semen, the virus enters the bloodstream and targets the host's helper T cells, a specialized type of white blood cells. Because it is a retrovirus, HIV can hijack the host's replication machinery to make more of copies of itself. It's estimated that the virus can make up to 10 billion new virons every day. No cure or vaccines have been developed for HIV, and millions of people worldwide live with this condition.

But though HIV positive, Sheen and his doctor say that he does not have AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. This is because of antiretroviral medications that suppress the virus' ability to multiply and insert itself in the host's genome. Because of intervention, his viral count is under control and his immune system is still able to fight off infections.

With continued therapy and safe practices, the risk for transmission is low. But there is an undeniable stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which hopefully can be lessened with more awareness and understanding of this disease.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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