Danny Pintauro, “Who’s the Boss” Child Star, Reveals He’s HIV Positive

Danny Pintauro, who played Jonathan Bower on the 1980’s TV show Who’s the Boss, appeared on an Oprah: Where Are They Now?  episode this weekend. During the episode, he made the startling announcement that he is HIV-Positive, and has been so for 12 years!

Pintauro came out publicly as gay in 1997, when a tabloid threatened to out him.

Pintauro was diagnosed in 2003 after a routine checkup:

“I was living in New York at the time and completely clueless to the idea that I was positive. I went in for a regular checkup. It was just regular blood work. You go in, and you sort of waited two weeks on pins and needles —or at least I did, because I was just terrified of the idea of getting HIV.”

Pintauro confessed that he had been been using crystal meth at the time when he believed he contracted the virus:

I was doing crystal meth, which completely ruins your immune system. I’d been doing it at that point very briefly, but it was three weeks or so, off and on. I had just come out of a two-year relationship, and I discovered in that relationship that there was more I wanted to explore sexually.

“Crystal meth takes away your inhibitions… And if you want to explore that adventurous side, taking the drug is going to put you there. I was experimenting… And believe it or not, I thought that I was being safe in that encounter. I know exactly when it happened.”

After the diagnosis, Pintauro’s greatest fear was that he might remain alone for the rest of his life.

“There’s this awful feeling of ‘I’m never going to be able to have a good relationship, no one’s every going to want me.’ That was there and that was prevalent. You know, that moment of ‘Oh God, I’m now going to have that conversation every time I meet someone. Who’s going to want to love me?’”

Fortunately, this fear proved to be unfounded. In 2012, Pintauro met and fell in love with Wil Tabares, who he married in 2014. He hopes to become an advocate for those with HIV, saying:

“What I want my community to realize is we need to take better care of ourselves.”

What is HIV?

hivstructurefigure1HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

No safe and effective cure currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful. Meanwhile, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is often called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV and lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.

HIV affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS.

What are the stages of HIV?

HIV disease has a well-documented progression. Untreated, HIV is almost universally fatal because it eventually overwhelms the immune system—resulting in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV treatment helps people at all stages of the disease, and treatment can slow or prevent progression from one stage to the next.

A person can transmit HIV to others during any of these stages:

537px-Symptoms_of_acute_HIV_infection.svgAcute infection: Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, you may feel sick with flu-like symptoms. This is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection, and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection. (Not everyone develops ARS, however—and some people may have no symptoms.)

During this period of infection, large amounts of HIV are being produced in your body. The virus uses important immune system cells called CD4 cells to make copies of itself and destroys these cells in the process. Because of this, the CD4 count can fall quickly.

Your ability to spread HIV is highest during this stage because the amount of virus in the blood is very high.

Eventually, your immune response will begin to bring the amount of virus in your body back down to a stable level. At this point, your CD4 count will then begin to increase, but it may not return to pre-infection levels.

Clinical latency (inactivity or dormancy): This period is sometimes called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV is still active, but reproduces at very low levels. You may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. People who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) may live with clinical latency for several decades. For people who are not on ART, this period can last up to a decade, but some may progress through this phase faster. It is important to remember that you are still able to transmit HIV to others during this phase even if you are treated with ART, although ART greatly reduces the risk. Toward the middle and end of this period, your viral load begins to rise and your CD4 cell count begins to drop. As this happens, you may begin to have symptoms of HIV infection as your immune system becomes too weak to protect you .

397px-Symptoms_of_AIDS.svgAIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome): This is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to infections and infection-related cancers called opportunistic illnesses. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (Normal CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3.) You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic illnesses, regardless of your CD4 count. Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. People with AIDS need medical treatment to prevent death.

Some HIV statistics

About 50,000 people get infected with HIV each year. In 2010, there were around 47,500 new HIV infections in the United States.

About 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2012, the most recent year this information was available. Of those people, about 12.8% do not know they are infected.

Do people still die from HIV?

Yes. In the United States, about 13,712 people diagnosed with AIDS died in 2012. HIV disease remains a significant cause of death for certain populations. To date, an estimated 658,507 people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States have died.

What you should know about HIV testing…

One in eight people with HIV are unaware of their infection. That’s why CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once and that high-risk groups get tested more often. Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV.

Behaviors that put you at risk for HIV include having vaginal or anal sex without a condom or without being on medicines that prevent or treat HIV, or sharing injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:

  • Have you had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or whose status you didn’t know since your last HIV test?
  • Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, like syphilis?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don’t know?

If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).

You should also get tested if:

  • You have been sexually assaulted.
  • You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

For information about HIV treatment, go to our story about Ryan Lewis’ mother, Julie Lewis.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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