Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen revealed today that he is HIV positive.

The former sitcom star says he decided to speak out to put an end to the speculation and blackmail.

H-I-V.  Charlie Sheen says they are three letters that are very hard to say.  Medically, it has become much easier to treat now but stigma still surrounds this illness.

‘I want to admit that I am in fact HIV positive,’ Charlie Sheen told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show, ending months of speculation about his health. Charlie Sheen said he has had it for about four years, although did not know how he contracted the virus.

‘It is a hard three letters to absorb,’ he told Lauer, ‘a turning point in one’s life.’

The former star of the sitcom ‘Two and a Half Men’ admitted he had paid people close to him millions of dollars to keep quiet about his health.  But that was ending as of today.

‘I release myself from this prison today.’

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. When it was first diagnosed in the 80's, it was equivalent to a death sentence. In the 1990’s, at its peak, the Ottawa Hospital was seeing a thousand people in clinic with HIV or AIDS; one or two a week were dying from it.

But with proper treatment and medication, people can now live out their lives.

‘We’ve transformed this, medically, from a death sentence to a commuted life sentence,’ says Dr. Bill Cameron, a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and a physician of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Ottawa Hospital, ‘You can live with HIV.’

Dr. Cameron has spent years studying AIDS and HIV and has seen the medical transformation of this disease.

‘HIV treatment now, if you have reimbursement for medications, is, relatively speaking, a cakewalk,’ he says, ‘It's easier to live with HIV in terms of medical health care than it is with diabetes and maybe high blood pressure.’

But while the illness can be kept in check, the stigma around HIV is still very real.

Bruce House in Ottawa offers support and housing for those living with HIV.  Jay Koornstra is the executive director and believes, if anything, the stigma has gotten worse.

‘It's still a tough call to publicly disclose;’ says Koornstra, ‘because once you’ve told someone, the whole world knows. Twenty years ago, people had more compassion for people living with HIV and Aids because perhaps their death was more imminent than today.’

Sheen is hoping his decision to speak out will help other people; that others will come forward and say ‘thanks, Charlie, for kickin' the door wide open on this issue.’