Local experts hope Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he is HIV-positive will reduce the stigma associated with the virus and will inspire more people in the Miami Valley to be tested and seek treatment.
“The stigma around HIV is still the hugest, still to this day, barrier to care, people seeking care, people seeking to find out their status,” said Jeffrey Chiles, manager of AIDs Resource Center Ohio Dayton Clinic.
ARC Ohio’s Dayton Medical Center has about 600 clients, and provides a range of services including primary care, HIV specialty care, behavioral health therapy, and case management, Chiles said. It also has an on-site pharmacy open to the public. All proceeds from the pharmacy go back into funding ARC Ohio.
“It’s estimated that there’s about 1,700 individuals in the Miami Valley region/Dayton area with HIV or AIDS. There’s also an estimated 300 individuals that are HIV positive that are unaware of their status,” Chiles said.
Sheen — who is known for his role on the popular television sitcom “Two and a Half Men — is the son of Dayton-born activist and actor Martin Sheen.
Charlie Sheen said Tuesday that he was diagnosed with the virus four years ago.
“In patients that I see, it’s not that uncommon that people will mention celebrities, especially Magic Johnson, and his public experiences as something that’s been a positive influence on them,” said Dr. Thomas Herchline, infectious disease expert and Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County medical director. “I think this will contribute a small amount towards lessening the stigma potentially, hopefully.”
Herchline and Chiles said management of the virus has changed significantly over the years due to medical advancements. Doctors used to wait until a certain point to prescribe medications to HIV-positive patients, Chiles said. But that is no longer the case.
“This time, the guidelines are the individuals are prescribed medications immediately upon diagnosis of their HIV-positive status, so they have a much quicker chance to become undetectable and become virally suppressed,” Chiles explained. Eighty percent of ARC Ohio’s 1,400 patients statewide have been virally suppressed since 2011, according to the non-profit.
Patients used to take a “handful” of pills to manage HIV, Herchline said.
“The majority of individuals that are starting on treatment now, start on one pill a day,” Herchline said. “The treatments are a lot easier to take and consequently, people do a better job of taking all of their doses, which we know is very important for the success.”
The prognosis for people who test positive for the virus has changed “dramatically” over the years, from what was once considered a death sentence, Herchline said.
“Now, I tell people that their life expectancy will be the same as if they didn’t have HIV based upon the effectiveness of the treatment and stressing the importance of taking the medicine as prescribed,” Herchline said.
Advancements have also been made in preventing the spread of HIV with a medication regimen. ARC Ohio Dayton started offering a pre-exposure prophylaxis program (PrEP) in November 2014.
“(It’s) a one-pill-a-day regimen for HIV-negative individuals which basically reduces their risk of acquiring HIV from 92 to 100 percent by taking one pill a day with safe-sex practices as well,” Chiles said.
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