SOURCES: David Rosenthal, D.O., Ph.D. medical director, Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV North Shore-LIJ Health System, Great Neck, N.Y.; Today.com
TUESDAY, Nov. 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Actor Charlie Sheen acknowledged Tuesday that he is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"It's a hard three letters to absorb. It's a turning point in one's life," Sheen, who is 50, said during an interview on NBC's Today show with co-host Matt Lauer.
Sheen said he was diagnosed about four years ago and was going public now for two reasons: to end an extortion campaign that he claimed has cost him millions of dollars and to help combat the stigma of HIV.
"I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories that are about me, threatening the health of so many others that couldn't be further from the truth," he said of the extortion efforts.
Sheen said he initially shared the diagnosis with people he thought he could trust, but has since paid out roughly $10 million to keep his condition a secret.
He also said he hopes that by going public with the diagnosis, it will help dispel the stigma of HIV.
"I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people and hopefully with what we're doing today others will come forward and say, 'Thanks, Charlie,' " he said.
Sheen's physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Lauer the actor "does not have AIDS."
There is no cure for AIDS. But the use of antiviral drugs has turned HIV infection into a manageable illness, not unlike a disease like diabetes. But, the antiviral drugs must be taken for a lifetime.
Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., said: "Today, patients with HIV can live almost normal lives, but they have to take their HIV medication daily and follow up with their physician on a regular basis."
Rosenthal said many of the HIV treatments -- called "combined antiretroviral therapy" -- are one pill taken once a day. These pills combine multiple different medications into one pill.
"Since one person in seven in the U.S.A. that have HIV do not know that they have HIV, it is essential that patients get routine HIV testing as part of their regular medical care. The earlier we can diagnose a patient as being HIV positive, the less chance that patient can spread HIV to others, and the better chance that the person can start medications early and live a long, healthy life," Rosenthal said.
Sheen said he doesn't know how he contracted the virus.
He has a history of substance abuse and has admitted to soliciting prostitutes in the past, according to published reports.
Sheen said Tuesday that he told his ex-wives Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller about his diagnosis when he found out.
He also claimed it was "impossible" that he knowingly transmitted the virus to others. While acknowledging that he had unprotected sex with two people since the diagnosis, he said both were informed ahead of time and have been under the care of his doctor.
Sheen is the son of actor Martin Sheen and starred in a series of hit movies in the 1980s and '90s, including Platoon, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Wall Street.
In the 2000s, he starred in a series of TV shows, most notably Two and a Half Men, from which he was fired in 2011.
To learn more about HIV, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.