Charlie Sheen could have taken Truvada, a pill that prevents people from getting HIV

By @vitthernandez on
Charlie Sheen
Charlie Sheen listens during an interview with host Matt Lauer on the set of NBC's "Today" show in Manhattan, New York, November 17, 2015. The former "Two and A Half Men" star said on Tuesday he is HIV positive. Reuters/Peter Kramer/NBC

“Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen continues to be in the news after he admitted in a TV interview that he is HIV positive. His sex partners are threatening to file lawsuits against him, while even Sheen’s sexuality is now under question over reports that he allegedly had oral and unprotected anal sex with another man.

Sheen could have avoided all these problems that affect not only his career but also personal life had he known there is a pill that prevents people from getting HIV. That’s because there is no widespread knowledge about that pill, according to a report released on Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As a result, Sheen is one of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV which could have been avoided if he knew about Truvada. It is a pre-exposure prophylactic that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV by more than 90 percent and by more than 70 percent among people who inject drugs. According to a recent CDC analysis, an estimated 25 percent of gay and bisexual men; 20 percent of people who inject drugs; and one in 200 sexually active heterosexual adults are at substantial risk for HIV infection and should be counseled about PrEP.

CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden admits that CDC is not reaching many people who would benefit from Truvada, partly because many health providers are unaware too of the pill. The US Food and Drug Administration approved in 2012 Truvada after a clinical trial started in 2010 found that the drug provided 99 percent protection to gay men against HIV.

Truvada Dr. Albert Liu, director of HIV Prevention Intervention Studies at San Francisco's Department of Public Health, holds a study pill for his Project T study in San Francisco, California, August 8, 2006. Since the diagnosis of AIDS a quarter century ago, overcoming its risk, for example, by devising a vaccine has proved elusive. The United Nations says 25 million have died since the epidemic emerged. Yet antiretroviral drugs have kept people with the HIV virus that causes AIDS alive, giving hopes that drugs such as tenofovir (Viread) or the two-drug combination pill Truvada made by the California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences could keep the healthy from getting HIV. Picture taken August 8, 2006.  Reuters/Kimberly White

Also called PrEP, Truvada – prescribed to only about 2,000 people during the initial years after it was approved – cuts by 92 percent the risk of HIV infection considered at high risk. The pill, however, needs to be taken daily which CDC notes, is often not followed by many patients.

Among the reasons behind the low acceptance rate of Truvada is the stigma linked with having HIV. This has resulted in some people – called Truvada whores – who take PrEP and forego wearing a condom when indulged in sex as Sheen allegedly did with his unidentified male partner.

Frieden estimates that there are 40,000 new HIV infections diagnosed annually in the US which is a signal for the government to use all available prevention strategies.

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