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Charlie Sheen’s HIV disclosure may reinvigorate awareness, prevention of HIV

Actor Charlie Sheen’s public disclosure in November 2015 that he has the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

John W. Ayers, Ph.D., M.A., of San Diego State University, California, and coauthors used news and Internet searches to examine engagement with HIV-related topics around the time of Sheen’s Nov. 17 disclosure.

The authors used news trends gathered through the Bloomberg Terminal, which included counts of global English-language reports with the term HIV. Internet searches were gathered through Google Trends and included counts of searches originating from the United States for four categories: HIV, condoms, HIV symptoms and HIV testing. Data analysis was conducted from Nov. 17 to Dec. 8, 2015.

The authors report that since 2004, news reports about HIV had decreased from 67 stories per 1,000 to 12 stories per 1,000 in 2015. On the day of Sheen’s disclosure, there was a 265 percent increase in news reports mentioning HIV, with more than 6,500 stories on Google News alone, making it among the top 1 percent of HIV-related media days in the past seven years, according to the results.

Sheen’s disclosure also corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States, according to the research letter. The authors note that about 2.75 million more searches than expected included the term HIV and 1.25 million searches were directly relevant to public health outcomes because they included search terms for condoms, HIV symptoms or HIV testing.

“While no one should be forced to reveal HIV status, Sheen’s disclosure may benefit public health by helping many people learn more about HIV infection and prevention. More must be done to make this benefit larger and lasting,” the study concludes.