Charlie Sheen will reportedly claim he is HIV-free because the virus is undetectable. Is that even a thing?


The entertainment news world is abuzz with reports that Charlie Sheen will announce in a matter of hours that he is the unnamed Hollywood actor with HIV that has been making headlines of late.

The unnamed actor was rumoured to have been hiding his HIV-positive diagnosis from sexual partners for around two years.

According to celebrity gossip site TMZ, the 50-year-old actor will claim his HIV is “undetectable” due to medication and so he did not knowingly deceive any sexual partners because blood tests couldn’t reveal the presence of the disease.


So what does this actually mean?


Victorian AIDS Council Chief Executive Simon Ruth said most people diagnosed with HIV these days and treated will achieve an undetectable status, which means testing will no longer pick up the virus.

They won’t be cured; they will always have the virus, but they will likely not infect others.

“We imagine by these comments Sheen is referring to ‘undetectable viral load’,” Mr Ruth said.

Related: Charlie Sheen is reportedly the “a-list Hollywood actor” with HIV.

“Having an undetectable viral load does not mean that a person is not HIV-positive, and it does not mean that they are free of HIV.

“However, a person living with HIV on effective antiretroviral treatment can have HIV in their system at levels below current methods of detection (less than 20 copies of the virus per mL of blood). We refer to this as having an ‘undetectable viral load’.

“What we know from research is that it is unlikely that anyone with undetectable viral load can pass HIV on to others.”

Sheen’s expected announcement could have a positive effect for others with the disease, Living Positive Victoria Chief Executive Brent Allan says.

“All people living with HIV benefit when high profile people come out as HIV positive, because this makes it easier for others to follow suit,” he said.

“It is a very difficult thing to do, and high profile celebrities who publicly disclose their HIV status can be role models for other people living with HIV who don’t feel able to disclose their own HIV status.”

He added: “However, when he and others are shamed and represented as either victims or perpetrators, any benefit from his disclosure is nullified.”

charlie sheen HIV undetectable
HIV virus attacking a cell. Image via iStock.

Facts about HIV in Australia:

The Kirby Institute estimates around 14 per cent of people with HIV in Australia do not know they are infected, a factor that contributes significantly to the virus’ ongoing transmission.

The number of HIV cases in Australia has remained relatively stable over the past three years, with more than 1000 new cases of HIV infection recorded each year.

In 2014, sexual contact between men accounted for 70 per cent of the cases, heterosexual sex caused 19 per cent and 8 per cent were attributed to injectable drug use.