Charlie Sheen Had A Huge Impact On HIV Prevention

Charlie Sheen Had A Huge Impact On HIV Prevention

Its an unfortunate fact that diseases sometimes dont get the recognition they deserve until celebrities are afflicted with them. Lance Armstrong, for example, made a huge impact on testicular cancer awareness and fundraising following his diagnosis, which continues today two decades on.

And now it seems some good is being made out of a celebritys sad situation once again, as Charlie Sheens public disclosure of his HIV-positive status appears to have had a huge consequence on the public. Not only did he apparently make fresh and deserved attention for the virus, in doing so this increased interest may have ultimately helped prevention strategies, at least in the U.S.

Celebrity disclosures are not new to HIV, with Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson serving as noteworthy examples. Yet, Sheens disclosure could be different, study writer Eric Leas from UC San Diego said in a statement. The Web 2.0 era may heighten the effects of Sheen.

Published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from San Diego State University wanted to see whether Sheens announcement on November 17, 2015 inspired engagement with HIV and related topics, thus perhaps creating a boost for public health. Utilizing a combination of information from the Bloomberg Terminal and Google Trends, the team monitored Internet searches and media reports around the time of his disclosure, looking for terms like HIV, condoms and HIV testing.

Despite there having been an overall downward trend in media attention of HIV over the years, on the day that Sheen ran public there was a dramatic 265 percent increase in news reports mentioning the virus. On Google News alone, there were 6,500 pieces that referenced HIV that day, placing it amongst the top days in terms of HIV media coverage over the past seven years.

Taking into account previous Internet patterns, they found that Sheens disclosure coincided with 2.75 million additional searches that included the term HIV, or almost a 420 percent increase on what would be expected. Not merely that, but there was a huge boost in the number of condom searches, including people looking for places to buy them, alongside searches for HIV testing facilities and symptoms, which rose by a staggering 214 and 540 percentage, respectively.

Since as many as 1 in 8 infected people in the U.S ., and 1 in 6 in the U.K ., dont know that they have HIV, this renewed attention could have had an impact on HIV prevention if it ultimately boosted safe sex practices and testing, but unfortunately this study cant enlighten us on that. And as the analysis was only conducted for a three-week period, we dont know if the apparent impacts are lasting or have already petered out.

But its clear as crystal that celebrity affiliation does indeed produce renewed interest in health issues. So what public health workers need to do is jump on this and use it to drive campaigns forward, rather than letting the desperately needed added attention to fizzle outto a point where people dont think its an issue they need to worry about anymore.

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