HIV Expert Speaks Out After Charlie Sheen's Announcement

Much progress in treating HIV has been made since when Dr. Zane Saul began treating patients in the late 1980s.

“When we diagnose somebody now with HIV,” Dr. Saul Said, “we tell them that they’re going to have a normal lifespan, that’s enormous.”

Dr. Saul, the chief of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital, said he hopes actor Charlie Sheen’s revelation on the "Today" show will raise awareness for HIV/AIDS just like when NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced he was HIV-positive in 1991.

“The big push we would like to see from this is more people get tested,” Dr. Saul said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. One in seven is unaware of their infection and about 50,000 Americans become newly infected every year.

More than 13,000 people with AIDS die annually, according to the CDC. That number is much lower than in the early years of the epidemic thanks to improved antiviral medications introduced in the mid-1990s.

“When I started treating patients in 1988, 1990, they had to take 20 to 30 pills a day to be able to offset the resistance of the virus,” Dr. Saul said. “We now have patients that can take a single pill a day.”

Now, there’s even an FDA-approved drug called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for partners of HIV-positive patients.

“They can actually take a medicine that’s almost 100 percent effective in preventing the partner from getting HIV,” Dr. Saul said.

Contact Us