Yesterday Charlie Sheen revealed on NBC's"Today Show" that he was diagnosed with HIV about four years ago. Sheen was never secretive about his risque dalliances with prostitutes and porn actresses. He gained quite a reputation as a wild party man who indulged in life's excesses. Despite his sexual appetite and personal choices it was still unsettling to hear. A virus that can lead to a premature death is enough to make you uneasy.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus first made headlines in the eighties. Initially it appeared as a "gay man's" disease. We found out that HIV could lead to AIDS which compromised a person's immune system leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic illnesses such as cancer. I grew up in New York where an AIDS epidemic erupted and decimated certain groups. The fear of this monster caused many to speculate about how it could be transmitted. We knew that sex and needles could pass the disease from one person to another. Some believed it could also be caught from kissing, toilet seats, breathing and maybe even a hug.
I remember sitting in a health class at St. John's University and being told that the 4 H's were mostly susceptible to AIDS; Homosexuals, Heroin/Intravenous drug users, Hemophiliacs and Haitians. That news eventually made it to the streets and caused a panic. Haitians took offense to being singled out and took to the streets. The images of the Brooklyn Bridge appearing to buckle under their marching feet is still vivid in my mind.
Today we do know that anyone can contract HIV through unprotected sex, the sharing of needles and blood transfusions. There are drugs available today that can allow those infected to live long lives. Magic Johnson is a prime example since he has lived with HIV for over 20 years now. HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was over 30 years ago but it is still a chronic crisis lurks within all our communities.