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The 'Charlie Sheen Effect': His HIV Announcement Helped Raise Awareness

First Posted: Feb 22, 2016 03:34 PM EST
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Charlie Sheen has been known for a lot of things, but health promoter isn't what usually comes to mind.

After the actor publicly announced that he had HIV, a virus that attacks the body's immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells) that help fight off infections, researchers from San Diego State University found that his news has actually prompted some of the greatest number of HIV-related Google searchers recorded in the United States since 2004, according to Fox News.

"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 wrote.

For the study, researchers analyzed Google trends data with news trends from a Bloomberg LP terminal system from 2004 through just three weeks following Sheen's announcement, on Nov. 17.

Sheen didn't just discuss his infection, but rather, he talked about taking a once-a-day pill in a regimen known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP--which helped keep himself healthy and helped protect sexual partners from contracting the virus. 

In fact, when Sheen appeared on TODAY with the announcement, researchers noted a 265 percent increase in news reports regarding HIV, according to NBC News.

"Since 2004, news reports about HIV decreased from 67 stories per 1,000 to 12 stories per 1,000 in 2015," researchers wrote. "Sheen's disclosure also corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States. 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."

The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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