Charlie Sheen's HIV positive revelation has met with mixed reactions. Some believe he deserved it for his hedonistic lifestyle, others feel bad that he's developed a serious illness. Either way, HIV has hit the headlines recently, and got everyone talking about whether HIV is still the terrifying death sentence it once was, or more of a manageable chronic illness. Let's take a look.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus attacks the immune system, killing white blood cells - the 'T-helper' cells - and breeding inside them.
It's thought 110,000 people in the UK are HIV positive. The National Aids Trust estimates that 18,000 others are infected but don't know.
The 1980s public information adverts were designed to shock us. Our TVs told us that AIDs was 'a deadly disease' with 'no known cure'. The only way to deal with HIV was to avoid contracting the virus in the first place.
Today, Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can manage the condition. ART works by reducing the 'viral load' in the blood to 'undetectable' levels. This is when the amount of virus is so low that tests can't trace it. However, there's still no cure, and the condition still requires lifelong treatment and management.
It's very simple; head to your local clinic or GP and ask for a test. They are free on the NHS.
The most common way to be tested for HIV is through a blood test. The results are usually available after a few days or sometimes even on the same day. You can choose how you get the results - text, phone call or letter. If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, a reliable result can be obtained four weeks or more after exposure. If you are needle-phobic ask your GP for a saliva test instead.
Whilst you're there get tested for all other STIs too.
HIV is spread via body fluids. Activities such as unprotected sex and sharing needles, as well as childbirth or breast-feeding, can transmit the virus.
Those with HIV can still lead a full life. They can have HIV negative children with the right care, a job and a social life, but they have to look after themselves and take medication every day.
An HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore - treatment has come a very long way since the 80s.
HIV is a serious condition that you want to avoid, but that doesn't mean you should be afraid of HIV positive folk or marginalise them in any way. A single careless one-night stand can result in an HIV positive diagnosis, and who hasn't done that? The point is a lot of people have risked it at some point, and it's been pure luck that's kept you clear - some aren't so lucky.
Protect yourself, educate yourself and stand up to stigma. If we had as much kindness as criticism floating around the world it would be a much happier place.