Did The Charlie Sheen Effect Affect The HIV Epidemic? #Winning

Yes! Sheen not only increased internet searches, his announcement drove sales of testing kits to record highs, says researchers.

On November 17, 2015, Charlie Sheen publicly announced he was living with HIV on a memorable interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Researchers were dumbfounded at the reaction of the public, based on internet search data– primarily searches for HIV prevention and testing. This announcement was not coordinated with any public health initiative, nor did Sheen specifically call for everyone to be screened at the time. At the time, San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health research professor John W. Ayers led a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

At the time, it was coined “the Sheen Effect.”


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According to a new press release, “a new, follow-up study published in the journal Prevention Science, Ayers and colleagues found that not only did Sheen’s disclosure lead people to seek information about HIV, it also corresponded with record levels of at-home rapid HIV testing sales.

The team collected data on weekly sales the only rapid in-home HIV test kit available in the United States, to investigate whether Internet queries (based on Google Trends data on searches with “test,” “tests,” or “testing” and “HIV”) could be correlated with any uptick in HIV testing.”


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“Our strategy allowed us to provide a real-world estimation of the ‘Charlie Sheen effect’ on HIV prevention and contrast that effect with our past formative assessment using Internet searches,” said study coauthor Eric Leas, a research associate in the SDSU-UCSD joint doctoral program in public health.

So the results?

The week Sheen made the announcement, a near doubling of the only rapid testing kit available also reached an all-time high. For the next three weeks sales remained elevated, with 8,225 more sales than expected.

“In absolute terms, it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of Sheen’s disclosure,” added study coauthor Benjamin Althouse, research scientist with the Institute of Disease Modeling. “However, when we compared Sheen’s disclosure to other traditional awareness campaigns the ‘Charlie Sheen effect’ is astonishing.”

Interestingly, testing kit sales in the time period around Sheen’s disclosure were nearly eight times higher than sales on World AIDS Day, a period generally having elevated sales because of the broad promotion and awareness of the day.

They also note: these findings reinforce their past analyses of Google search data. Using Internet searches alone the team was able to predict HIV testing sales within seven percent for any given weeks.
“Public health leaders are often cautious, choosing to wait for traditional data instead of taking reasonable action in response to novel data, like Internet searches,” Ayers said. ” Our findings underscore the value of big media data for yielding rapid intelligence to make public health actionable and more responsive to the public it serves.”

Coauthor Jon-Patrick Allem, research scientist with the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine says, “It is easy to imagine that a single individual, like Sheen, disclosing his HIV status may be more compelling and motivating for people than an unnamed mass of individuals or a lecture from public health leaders.”

So, it seems, Sheen is once again #Winning!

Thank You @GLAAD! I am honored…I LOST. Updated. ?

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