Charlie Sheen's HIV admission hailed as boost for public health
Published 23/02/2016 | 08:31
Actor Charlie Sheen's bombshell announcement on a US chat show that he is HIV-positive may have had a massive public health benefit, research suggests.
After his admission on NBC's Today Show last November, HIV-related Google searches in the US hit record levels.
The number of news reports mentioning the Aids virus also soared.
Experts said the surge in awareness was likely to be a boost for public health.
"Charlie Sheen's disclosure was a potential earth-shaking event for HIV prevention in the United States," said Prof John Ayers, from San Diego State University in California.
"While no one should be forced to reveal their HIV status and all diagnoses are tragic, Sheen's disclosure may benefit public health by potentially helping many learn more about HIV and HIV prevention."
Sheen, who starred in sitcom Two And A Half Men as well as the movies Wall Street and Platoon, was the highest-paid actor on TV in 2010.
But a year later his life and career were in a tailspin as reports of alcohol and drug abuse, marital problems and mental instability hit the headlines. His contract for Two And A Half Men was terminated in March 2011.
His public announcement that he had been diagnosed HIV-positive four years earlier caused a sensation.
To assess its impact, Prof Ayers led a team of researchers who scoured Google search histories and monitored news coverage.
They found that the day of Sheen's disclosure coincided with a 265pc increase in news reports mentioning HIV.
An additional 6,500 stories were reported on the Google News website alone.
Sheen's appearance on the Today Show also corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded on a single day in the US.
About 2.75 million more searches including the term "HIV" were made than expected, based on previous trends - a rise of 417pc.
In addition, 1.25 million more searches than expected were made that included the terms "condoms", "HIV symptoms", and "HIV testing".
This was against a background of apparent declining interest in HIV as a health issue.
Between 2004 and 2015, the rate of news reporting about HIV had reduced from 67 stories per 1,000 to only 12, said the researchers.
Of more than 1.2 million people in the US believed to be living with HIV, nearly one in eight are said to be unaware that they have the virus.