“I’m an ex-convict. I have AIDS. I am a prostitute. I’m poor. I’m old. I’m a lesbian. I aborted my baby. I’m a teenage mom. I’m a victim of rape. I’m a drug addict. I’m alcoholic. I’m a beggar. I have cancer. I have contagious disease…but the nurse said, I’ll take care of you. – Anonymous”
Charlie Sheen is all over the news today with the public proclaimation of his HIV positive status. In America it is reported by the Centers for Disease Control that 1.2 Million people are living with the HIV virus, and nearly 50,000 contract the virus each year.
What is HIV?
Human Immunosufficieny Virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to AIDS. The virus destroys the T-helper cells in the body which replicate themselves. Approximately 13% of these people who’s T-helper cells are being destroyed have no idea they are infected and live normal lives until the virus begins to present symptoms. Those who do know they are infected but seek treatment through “cocktails” of drugs can live asymptomatic normal lives.
Charlie Sheen’s Announcement of HIV Status
Apparently Sheen had been extorted by prostitutes and whoever else he had sexual relationship with. This in turn forced him to expose his HIV status to the general public. His secret was a secret worth millions. (I’m sure someone will walk away from this with a book deal.) In his open letter (a term I have grown to loathe due to it’s overuse of late,) Sheen discussed being honest with his partners about his condition before he put them at risk.
No one has to profess their condition publicly.
Even healthcare workers do not have to disclose their conditions. Surgeons in the past have been encouraged to not perform invasive procedures, but in this day and age where health information privacy is the utmost important policy followed, it is considered a breach in HIPAA for an employer to place restrictions on a worker because it in turn breaches HIPAA. (Just a few weeks ago on a similar note, nurses won the right to not have to wear a mask through flu season if they refused the flu vaccine because the donning of the mask disclosed their health information.)
Occupationally acquired HIV has only occurred in 58 cases since 1985, only one of those being reported since 1999. Because the modes of transmission are blood, semen, vaginal and anal fluids, vomit, pus and breast milk, it is not very likely a healthcare worker would get infected working with an HIV patient as long as universal precautions are adhered to.
Now, I said that you don’t have to disclose your medical condition to the public. But do you have to disclose your status to people you are intimate with? Many states have laws that require that you disclose your HIV status to certain people.
Will My Doctor Treat Me Differently If I Have HIV?
The answer is NO. In the past as an emergency room nurse I am sure I have been exposed to patients with the virus unknown to me at the time. Healthcare workers treat every patient as if they have an infectious disease, which means when you come to the hospital, people will wear gloves when they come into contact with your body fluids, whether you are HIV positive or not. HIV does not change the way you are cared for in a hospital if you are infected.
How Can You Prevent Contracting HIV?
Do not have unprotected sex. If you do, make sure it is with someone you trust.
Use a condom, wrap it before you tap it.
Get tested for HIV and request your partner be tested too.
Do not use needles someone else has used.
Try to be safe and not put yourself in situations where you would be at risk to contract HIV.
If you work in healthcare, follow universal precautions when working with patients.
We are not doctors, nor do we play doctors on TV! This article is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of the HIV virus. For more information, please check out the CDC webpage or scholarly journal articles on the subject.