22 February 2016
Google searches for HIV hit a record high in the US in the hours after actor Charlie Sheen announced that he was HIV positive, research reveals.
Investigators found 2.75m more Google searches than expected, based on previous trends, shortly after Sheen had appeared on US TV in November.
Web searches for condoms, HIV symptoms and HIV testing also rocketed.
The researchers say the ‘Sheen effect’ should be capitalised on, to further raise HIV awareness.
In relative terms, all HIV searches were 417 percent higher than expected on the day of Sheen’s disclosure.
Condom searches, such as “buy condoms”, increased 75%. HIV symptoms, such as “signs of HIV”, and HIV testing, such as “find HIV testing” searches increased 540% and 214%, respectively, the day of Sheen’s disclosure, and remained higher for three days.
Speaking in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, researcher Professor John Ayers, from San Diego State University, said: “While no one should be forced to reveal their HIV status and all diagnoses are tragic, Sheen’s disclosure may benefit public health by potentially helping many learn more about HIV and HIV prevention.
“More must be done to make this benefit larger and lasting.”
Back in November, Sheen, former start of sitcom Two And A Half Men, said he had gone to great lengths to keep his HIV status private.
He revealed to NBC presenter Matt Lauer that he had paid “enough to take it into the millions” to keep people from going public about his illness.
“I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths,” he said, adding he was diagnosed four years ago.
During that interview he said: “If there was one guy on this planet to contract this that’s going to deliver a cure, it’s me. It’s me. Seriously.
“I’m not going to be the poster man for this, but I will not shun away from responsibilities and opportunities that drive me to helping others.”
He’s not the first celebrity with health issues to cause a ripple effect in public behaviour.
Awareness of breast removal and reconstruction ops increased massively after Angelina Jolie’s experiences were reported in the media.
Likewise, cervical cancer screening uptake went up after reality TV star Jade Goody died from the disease.
Alex Sparrowhawk, Membership Officer of Terrence Higgins Trust said there was no question that Charlie Sheen’s forced disclosure had a huge impact, not only in the US but worldwide.
“As the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust website had its busiest day ever on 17 November, with almost 20,000 page views. The most popular covered ‘Stages of HIV infection’, ‘Getting Help Now’ and ‘What are HIV and AIDS’?
He said the “media circus” surrounding the Sheen story and the public reaction showed some attitudes were ignorant and outdated.
“There is definitely more work to be done in educating the public on HIV, but also in how the media report on HIV. It must be more widely understood as the long-term manageable health condition that it now is.”