Dear Charlie Sheen:
Prior to your November 18 2015 appearance on the NBC Today show, you submitted an open letter which contained the following:
Roughly four years ago, I suddenly found myself in the throes of a seismic and debilitating three-day cluster migraine-like headache…Following a battery of endless tests…it was sadly and shockingly revealed to me that I was, in fact, positive for HIV…The personal disbelief, karmic confusion, shame and anger led to a temporary yet abysmal descent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking…I dazedly chose (or hired) the companionship of unsavory and insipid types…
Yet, despite this loathsome and horrific odyssey…I always led with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition…(and) I was vigilant with my anti-viral program…Not missing a beat, a med dose, or one shred of guidance, quickly my viral loads became undetectable…My medical team could only shake their heads as each and every blood test returned levels revealing a state of remission…
During your appearance on Today, you said you informed every one of your companions of your HIV status and had unprotected sex with only two of them (who you subsequently placed under your medical team’s care). Your doctor confirmed that your HIV levels were “undetectable”; explained that you do not have AIDS and never did; and stated that thanks to your adherence to his medical regimen, your transmitting the virus via protected sex was “highly unlikely.”
Which brings us to the reason for this open letter: “Undetectable” and “highly unlikely” are nowhere near good enough. According to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control:
There is currently no cure for HIV. There is only medication that can reduce your HIV levels.
There are only two HIV statuses: HIV positive and HIV negative. Either you have some degree of HIV, or you don’t have it at all.
If your HIV levels are too low to be detectable, congratulations — your risk of spreading HIV through unprotected sex is now negligible. But you should still have protected sex, because you are still HIV positive since your HIV is NOT completely gone.
Being HIV undetectable does NOT mean that medical treatment can stop. If you reduce or stop treatment, your levels will rise again.
As of now, there is no such thing as “HIV free”: that would mean your levels are zero. Hopefully that will become possible someday — but in the meantime, you will always be HIV positive if you have HIV.
If you are HIV positive/undetectable, you must STILL inform ALL your sexual partners beforehand, including the “hired, insipid, and unsavory” ones. It’s only polite — and in most states, including New Jersey, it’s the law:
NEW JERSEY NJSA 2C:34-5(b): “A person is guilty of a crime of the third degree who, knowing that he or she is infected with human immune deficiency virus (HIV) or any other related virus identified as a probable causative agent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), commits an act of sexual penetration without the informed consent of the other person.”
An undetectable case of HIV is like a mild case of pregnancy.
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