During an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, Anger Management actor Charlie Sheen announced that he has been HIV positive for four years.
"I'm here to admit that I am in fact HIV positive," Sheen told Lauer during a live interview on the Today show. "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, that threaten the health of so many others that couldn't be further from the truth."
According to the 50-year-old Hollywood veteran, he suffered from a series of cluster headaches and night sweats, which ultimately led to an emergency hospitalization. After a barrage of tests, including a lumbar puncture, Sheen was told he was HIV positive.
"It's a hard three letters to absorb. It's a turning point in one's life," he said about receiving the diagnosis.
Sheen is the father of five children ranging in age from 31 to six years. He says he told his eldest daughter, Cassandra Estevez, only recently, and he confirmed that ex-wives Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller were told about his status right away.
Sheen says he was forced to announce he is HIV positive because of threats to disclose his personal health information. Sheen claims he entrusted his HIV status with several people who he thought were close friends. However, this disclosure led them to blackmail him for "upwards of $10 million" to keep the illness a secret.
Sheen's physician also appeared with him in the interview, and both spoke of Sheen's use of antiretroviral medication that has brought his viral load to undetectable. With an undetectable viral load, the risk of sexual transmission of HIV is almost zero.
Sheen says he expects that many lawsuits could come from his former sexual partners, but he does not believe that he could face criminal charges because he divulged his HIV-positive status to all of his partners.
"I can't sit here and protect against all of that or completely worry about it," he said.
Currently, 23 states have laws making it illegal for HIV-positive people to have sex without informing their partners prior to the sexual activity. According to the Center for HIV Law & Policy, between 2008 and 2015 there were at least 226 cases of criminal exposure to HIV. The types of exposure include sex, spitting and biting.
"HIV-related stigma is worse than it has ever been. Fear of casual contagion has declined somewhat, but stigma as prejudgment, marginalization and self-stigmatization has grown," said Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine and director of the Sero Project. "Some of this is because when effective therapy was introduced and people living with HIV were no longer seen through the prism of their expected death, we began to be seen through the prism of our expected survival."
"Living longer meant we would be around longer to infect others," Strub added. "Public health strategies, instead of creating a safe environment for people to disclose their HIV status and seek treatment, focused instead on tracking down people with HIV, testing us, listing us, reporting us and, eventually, criminalizing us," he said.
Strub says HIV-positive people are seen as an "inherent danger to the public" because of their potential to infect others. The Sero Project provides practical resources for people with HIV who may fear or face HIV criminalization.
Aaron Laxton, an HIV activist and blogger for TheBody.com, thinks there is a deeper issue with Sheen's disclosure: the right to privacy.
"It's not for anyone to disclose any information -- health information, HIV or anything else -- other than the person it impacts," he said in a video blog the day before Sheen's disclosure.
Doctors, hospitals, nurses, health insurers and any health care professionals are bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which prohibits the use and disclosure of protected health information without patient consent.
Althea Fung is the community editor for TheBody.com. For her thoughts on the healthcare industry, food and other random musing, check out her personal website, follow her on Twitter or stalk her on Facebook.