Charlie Sheen's HIV Sparked Interest in Disease
Internet searches surged after celebrity's disclosure that he has virus that causes AIDS
By Randy Dotinga
MONDAY, Feb. 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The Internet buzzed with millions more searches for HIV-related topics after actor Charlie Sheen revealed last November that he's infected with the virus that causes AIDS, a new study shows.
In total, all English-language searches about HIV quadrupled beyond the usual number the day after the celebrity's disclosure. Searches for information about HIV symptoms and testing were about six times higher than normal.
"Charlie Sheen's disclosure is potentially the most significant domestic HIV prevention event in the last decade," said study author John Ayers, a research professor with the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University.
Ayers and his colleagues began their research into the effect of Sheen's disclosure on the morning he announced on television that he'd been diagnosed with the AIDS virus. "We understood there would be some impact from Sheen's disclosure," Ayers explained, "but the exact nature of that impact was unknown."
The researchers analyzed news stories and Google searches in the years before Sheen's announcement and in the weeks afterward. They reported their findings in the Feb. 22 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.
According to the study, English-language news stories available on the Internet about HIV fell from 67 per 1,000 in 2004 to 12 per 1,000 in 2015. But the number of stories grew by 265 percent on the day of Sheen's disclosure, to around 25 per 1,000, the researchers found.
On the day of his disclosure, about 2.8 million more Google searches than usual included the term "HIV," and 1.3 million searches included search terms seeking information about condoms, HIV symptoms and HIV testing. (The researchers came up with these numbers after adjusting statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as especially high or low numbers of searches.)
"More searches for HIV occurred on the day of Sheen's disclosure than have ever occurred on any other day" since Google began tracking the number of searches in 2005, said study co-author Eric Leas, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.