GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Health professionals are hoping that actor Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he is HIV positive will encourage more awareness of and testing for the virus.
In Kent County alone, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there are 920 people who have been diagnosed with the disease — 38 of whom were diagnosed last year alone — and many more who are likely positive and undiagnosed.
“It’s an infection that sometimes people may think is long gone, but it’s still very much present in our community as well as all communities,” said April Hight, the Personal Health Program supervisor at the Kent County Health Department.
According to MDHHS data, Kent County has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the state — after Wayne County, which has 7,498 cases, and Oakland County, which has 1,965.
The actual numbers are likely even higher, Hight said, because the Centers for Disease Control says that one out of every eight people who have HIV don’t even know they have it.
On NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, Charlie Sheen said one reason he came forward was to raise awareness about the virus. He described receiving his diagnosis as “a turning point in one’s life.”
More than 20 years ago, after Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive, studies show that the number of people who got tested for HIV increased in the short term.
Hight said that it’s important for people to get tested, to know their status and to remember that it’s now considered more of a chronic disease, rather than the death sentence it once was.
“It’s definitely a manageable disease if you get into treatment and you stay in care,” she said. “Staying in care is the big thing, and there’s us (the health department) and other community partners who can help people do that.”
The Kent County Health Department offers free, anonymous HIV testing. Under state law, anyone can get tested for the virus without even providing a name.
HIV testing is always free at the Kent County Health Department, but there will be walk-in testing the week of World AIDS Day. A list of those scheduled testing times are below:
- Monday Nov. 30: 1-4:30 p.m., Kent County Health Department South Clinic, 4700 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Kentwood
- Tuesday, World AIDS Day: Dec. 1, 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Kent County Health Department, 700 Fuller Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
- Wednesday, Dec. 2: 1-4:30 p.m., Kent County Health Department, Sheldon Clinic, 121 Franklin St. SE, Ste. 130 Grand Rapids
- Thursday, Dec. 3: 1-4:30 p.m., Kent County Health Department, North Clinic, 4388 14 Mile Rd. NE, Rockford