Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen was called a lot of things when he was making headlines for antics involving hookers and blow. Now he's being called something else entirely: public health promoter.
Sheen's revelation that he's infected with the AIDS virus prompted the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches recorded in the U.S. since 2004, and more than 1 million of them involved public health-related information.
That's according to a study from San Diego State University research professor John Ayers and colleagues, who examined the impact of the Nov. 17 announcement by the former star of TV's “Two and a Half Men.”
“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 in a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
They analyzed Google trends data along with news trends from a Bloomberg terminal system from 2004 through three weeks after Sheen's announcement.
Given historic trends, there were almost 3 million more searches about HIV on Nov. 17 than expected, and more than 1 million were related to important public health messages because they included search terms for condoms, HIV symptoms or HIV testing.
The researchers also found that on Nov. 17 there were more than 6,500 separate HIV-related news stories on Google News alone, reversing a decadelong decline in news reporting about the virus.
The researchers said public health authorities could leverage the “Charlie Sheen effect” to keep the spotlight on HIV awareness, and that Sheen's disclosure could potentially have a greater impact because of how well-connected people are to information.