St. Louis reacts to Charlie Sheen going public over his HIV status

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Charlie Sheen is HIV-positive.  That word came in a nationally televised interview Tuesday morning.

The troubled actor apparently made that announcement not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

He says he was being blackmailed and had already paid $1 million to keep his diagnosis a secret.

Sheen said he hopes coming forward will help remove some of the stigma of the disease, but some in the St. Louis HIV/AIDS community fear it will have the opposite effect, because of the blackmail aspect.

'The fact that he has now disclosed (his HIV status) is a very good thing,' said Cheryl Oliver, Executive Director of St. Louis Effort for AIDS. 'Unfortunately the announcement this morning was really about the stigma, the fear and the stigma associated with this disease.'

Aaron Laxton, a St. Louisan who is HIV-positive also worries Sheen`s announcement could make the stigma worse instead of better, but he thinks there is value in rekindling the conversation.

'Hey look, this is a celebrity and he is using his platform to bring out information about HIV,' Laxton said. 'We are having this interview because he disclosed his status and there are thousands of interviews happening all over the world because Charlie wanted to disclose his status, and that`s a good thing,' he said.

Laxton and Oliver are hoping the Sheen announcement will at least bring attention to tremendous advances being made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including the little known drug called Truvada, which is taken as protection by people who do not have HIV but may be at risk of getting it.

'We have seen something that is over 90% effective, a one pill once a day that prevents HIV,' said Dr. Rupa Patel, an infectious disease specialist at the Washington University School of Medicine, which now has a program called PrEP, which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.  It is offered through the school`s Infectious Disease Clinic and it offers patients Truvada.

'I think it`s a game changer for having a public health impact,' Patel said.

In Missouri, there are roughly 6000 cases of HIV/AIDS. About 90% of them are in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

That puts Missouri about 1% above the national average.

Most of the new infections are among young men, particularly African-Americans, between the ages of 13 and to 24.