Charlie Sheen, HIV awareness advocate? A new study finds that during the three weeks after Sheen announced his HIV status on Nov. 17, there were more HIV-related Google searches in the US than at any other time since 2004, making his announcement "the most significant domestic HIV-prevention event in the last decade," the lead author tells New York. On that day, there were about 2.75 million more HIV-related searches than the typical number (a 417% boost, per a press release), with about 1.25 million of them related to public health—meaning that they included search terms for HIV symptoms (at a rate 540% higher than usual), HIV testing (214% higher), or condoms (72% higher), for example. The study also finds that there was a 265% increase in news articles about HIV; on Google News, there were more than 6,500 news articles relating to HIV on Nov. 17, which reverses what the AP calls "a decade-long decline in news reporting about the virus."
As Julia Belluz notes on Vox, "Sheen's announcement generated more attention around HIV in the past seven years than any AIDS conference, research finding, or United Nations mandate." Researchers are calling it the "Charlie Sheen effect," but they note that Rock Hudson's and Magic Johnson's HIV announcements caused similar surges in awareness. "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," the researchers write in JAMA Internal Medicine. (Almost one in eight of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV is not aware of it, Discovery News reports.) But no organization took advantage of the opportunity to center a public health awareness campaign around Sheen's announcement. "Imagine," says the lead author, "if every pubic health service began using Sheen’s disclosure to promote HIV prevention, and every news article included a link to find out how to be tested."