Charlie Sheen has revealed on The Today Show that he is HIV positive.

In an interview this morning New York time with NBC's Matt Lauer, the actor said that he did “not entirely” know how he contracted the virus.

Sheen said that he has known he had the condition for four years, and that he has been the victim of blackmail from those who sought to disclose the news.

When asked whether he could have transmitted HIV since his diagnosis, Sheen said it would have been “impossible".

Sheen's interview is important. In the past week the Sun newspaper was criticised for for its front page story on "Hollywood HIV panic".

Shaun Griffin of the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust told The Independent:

The fact is that it is utterly wrong to disclose an individual's HIV status without their permission – though we are provided with enough information here to effectively identify them.

Even with the advances made in HIV testing and treatment, this shows that unfounded prejudices still remain. It is attitudes like these that perpetuate HIV stigma.

Stigma is a dangerous construct and we’ve seen that it has a damaging effect on individuals and on public health. It can deter people from accessing testing or treatment, and can isolate a person living with HIV causing anxiety or depression.

Moreover, academics from Royal Holloway, University of London have found that fear of HIV and testing is one of the biggest barriers to diagnosis, in a study which estimates that half of the 35 million people infected have not been diagnosed.

The findings are published in the leading journal AIDS and Behaviour, which show that one quarter of over 100,000 HIV positive people in the UK do not know that they are infected.

Dr Michael Evangeli, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, who led the study, said:

Our research shows it is imperative that more is done to reduce the fear of HIV and HIV testing to increase the amount of people being tested.

A test for HIV, which can now be done in private at home, is necessary to receive HIV treatment and care. The earlier this can be done helps to reduce the onward transmission of HIV. The fact that HIV is treatable needs to be stressed.

HIV is spread through contact with blood (including menstrual blood and any blood in saliva, urine, and feces), semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, and fluids around the brain, spinal cord, joints and a developing fetus.

HIV is not spread through contact with sweat, tears, saliva, feces or urine.

Condoms remain the most effective barrier, as well as dental dams and latex gloves.

In addition, if a condom splits or you forget to use one – a HIV negative partner can take PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), which helps prevent transmission of HIV. It needs to be taken within 3 days, but better within 24 hours.

For more information visit the NHS website.

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