Charlie Sheen: What does diagnosis of HIV mean?

In light of actor Charlie Sheen’s admission Tuesday that he has tested HIV-positive, here are the answers to a few of the questions about what the diagnosis means.

What does HIV-positive  mean?

If you get a diagnosis of HIV-positive it means you have been infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and that two tests done on your blood have come back positive for the disease.

>>Photos: Charlie Sheen through the years

Is there a cure for HIV?

Currently, there is no cure for HIV. You will carry the virus in your body for the rest of your life.

How is it transferred?

You can get HIV in a number of ways. It is transmitted by sexual contact, shared needles, occupational exposure (a health care worker being stuck with a needle), and, very rarely now, blood transfusions or organ transplants.  An infected woman can also pass it along to her child during childbirth or by breastfeeding.

How is it not spread?

The disease is not spread by air or water, insects, saliva or sweat, drinking fountains, toilet seats or casual contact.

>>Watch: Charlie Sheen discloses he has HIV to Matt Lauer

If  you are HIV-positive, do you have AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the late stage of the HIV infection. HIV refers to the virus, AIDS is when a person’s immune system is so compromised that it can not fight off deadly diseases. With today’s medication options, most people diagnosed early with HIV do no progress to having AIDS.

What are the symptoms?

Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many people will suffer flu-like symptoms, often described as the “worst flu ever.” This is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS).

Some symptoms you may suffer during that time are:

  • Fever (this is the most common symptom)
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Headache

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

It is important to note that the symptoms listed above are all symptoms of other, far more common and less serious diseases. The only way to know for sure if you are HIV-positive is to be tested.

Is there any good news in the fight against HIV?

Yes. The disease that was once considered a death sentence is now, in most cases, somewhat manageable. Antiretroviral therapy, staying in treatment and living a healthy lifestyle has made living with the disease possible.

What is your life expectancy with HIV?

Life expectancy for many people who are HIV-positive, who start treatment early and who remain vigilant in taking medication, is similar to that of HIV-negative individuals.

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