Charlie Sheen piqued online curiosity about HIV

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Charlie Sheen Is HIV Positive

(Reuters Health) - Actor Charlie Sheen's disclosure that he is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) could be having a public health benefit, researchers say.

News reports about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had been on the decline between 2004 and 2015, but news stories - and HIV-related Google searches - spiked on November 17, 2015, when Sheen publicly disclosed his HIV-positive status, according to a report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"Charlie Sheen's HIV-positive disclosure is the most significant single domestic HIV-related event in more than a decade," said John W. Ayers of San Diego State University, coauthor of the research letter. "Literally millions of people sought out information on condoms, HIV testing and HIV symptoms on the days around Sheen's disclosure."

See Charlie Sheen through the years:

Charlie Sheen through the years
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Charlie Sheen piqued online curiosity about HIV
Charlie Sheen, 1984. (Photo by Getty Images)
Charlie Sheen in a scene from the film 'Platoon', 1986. (Photo by Orion/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - JULY 1: Actor Charlie Sheen in town to promote the movie 'Major League' prior to an Indians game at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium on July 1, 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio . (Photo by Janet Macoska/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Kelly Preston and Charlie Sheen at the Fox Theater in Westwood, California (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn in publicity portrait for the film 'Navy Seals', 1990. (Photo by Orion/Getty Images)
Actor Charlie Sheen listens to court deliberations after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery against his ex-girlfriend Brittany Ashland, Friday, June 6, 1997, at Malibu Municipal Court in Malibu, Calif. Superior Court Judge Lawrence Mira placed Sheen on 24 months court-supervised probation. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 24: Actor Charlie Sheen attends Charlie Sheen Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony on September 24, 1994 at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Charlie Sheen talks to the press outside court in Malibu, Calif., Monday, March 27, 2000, following a progress hearing on his probation for misdemeanor battery and drug cases. A judge granted Sheen's request for an early end to the probation, which stemmed from an attack on his then-girlfriend in 1996. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Actor Charlie Sheen, right, of television's "Spin City," is joined by fiance and actress Denise Richards, as he arrives at the 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002. Sheen won an award for best performance by an actor in a television comedy series. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Charlie Sheen holds his award backstage for best actor in a television series comedy/musical for his role in "Spin City" at the 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Photo by: Peter Kramer STAR MAX, Inc. - copyright 2003 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax: (212) 995-1196 5/14/03 Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen at the CBS program announcements. (NYC) (Star Max via AP Images)
Actors Charlie Sheen, left and Jon Cryer open the show at the 30th Annual People's Choice Awards Sunday, Jan. 11, 2004, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Charlie Sheen, nominated for outstanding performance by a male actor in a comedy series for his work in "Two and a Half Men," arrives with his wife Denise Richards for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Actor Charlie Sheen is escorted through a gauntlet of photographers as he arrives for the opening night festivities at the Fashion Cafe in New York, April 7, 1995. (AP Photo/Joe Tabacca)
**FILE**Charlie Sheen and his then-wife actress Denise Richards arrive at CBS celebration on Nov. 2, 2003, in New York. Their on and off relationship is apparently off. Lawyers for the couple filed legal papers Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006, asking a private judge in Los Angeles to handle their divorce, Sheen's publicist said.(AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
American actor Charlie Sheen is seen during an interview with the Associated Press at the 59th International film festival in Cannes, southern France, on Sunday, May 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Actor Charlie Sheen, from "Two and a Half Men," arrives at the CBS Television Critics Association party at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, July 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Lucas Jackson)
Actors Charlie Sheen, right, and Jon Cryer attend the 9th annual benefit for the Lili Claire Foundation held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Phil McCarten)
Charlie Sheen, right, and Angus T. Jones watch the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets during a basketball game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007. Rockets won 95-93. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Actor Charlie Sheen, left, and Brooke Wolofsky arrives at the 7th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball on Saturday, May 31, 2008, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Weeks)
Charlie Sheen accepts the outstanding actor in a television comedy series award for âTwo and a Half Menâ at the National Council of La Raza ALMA Awards in Pasadena, Calif. on Sunday Aug. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2009 file photo, from left, Charlie Sheen, Angus T. Jones and Jon Cryer, pose for a picture backstage with their favorite TV comedy award for "Two and a Half Men" at the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles. There's been plenty of comedy onscreen and tons of drama behind the scenes. It all comes to an end Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, as "Two and a Half Men," the remarkably durable hit CBS sitcom, wraps its 12-season run with a one-hour series finale. Funny or not, the conclusion will answer this burning question: Will former series star Sheen make a conciliatory guest appearance, as rumored, four years after his rancorous firing? (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Charlie Sheen, left, and Jon Cryer, pose for a picture backstage after winning the favorite TV comedy award for "Two and a Half Men" at the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards on Wednesday Jan. 7, 2009 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Actor Charlie Sheen, right, and wife Brooke Mueller arrive at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Charlie Sheen blows a kiss as he arrives at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen, Colo., on Monday, Aug. 2, 2010, for a hearing in his domestic abuse case. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
Charlie Sheen performs at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Saturday, April 2, 2011. Promising "the real story," the 45-year-old former "Two and a Half Men" star hit the road for a month-long, 20-city variety show tour, with the first stop Saturday's sold-out show in Detroit.(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Charlie Sheen appears onstage at his âViolent Torpedo of Truthâ show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Friday, April 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
FILE - This Jan. 28, 2009 file photo shows Charlie Sheen in Los Angeles. Sheenâs publicist Larry Solters announced Thursday, April 28, 2011, that the actor will donate the profits made from merchandise sold at the Saturdayâs show to benefit Bryan Stow, a Giants fan severely beaten during the Dodgersâ home opener. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Actor Charlie Sheen, right, talks with Kimiki Parham at the Belk Center as he visits the city of Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Monday, May 2, 2011. Sheen toured a neighborhood leveled by tornadoes and said Monday he wants to organize a relief event for victims in the state. He spent the day in Tuscaloosa meeting with storm victims and first responders. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Charlie Sheen is seen at the "Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen" on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011 in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Dan Krauss)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Charlie Sheen backstage during the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images)
Charlie Sheen presents the award for best shooter at Spike TV's Video Game Awards on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Charlie Sheen is seen onstage at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday, June 3, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Actor, Charlie Sheen, left, and friend Tony Todd show off their baseball bats during the seventh inning of a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan at the LA Premiere of Scary Movie V at the Cinerama Dome on Thursday, April 11, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP)
Mike Tyson and Charlie Sheen at the LA Premiere of Scary Movie V at the Cinerama Dome on Thursday, April 11, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP)
FILE - In this April 11, 2013 file photo, Charlie Sheen, a cast member in "Scary Movie V," poses at the Los Angeles premiere of the film at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. Sheen is set to âmake a revealing personal announcementâ on NBCâs âTodayâ show on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, NBC announced on Monday. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, file)
Actor Charlie Sheen is mobbed for autographs and photos in as he makes his way through Times Square in New York, on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4599 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Charlie Sheen during an interview with host Jay Leno on January 22, 2014 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - MAY 12: Charlie Sheen visits 'Extra' at Universal Studios Hollywood on May 12, 2015 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

But public health advocates are not harnessing Sheen's disclosure to promote HIV prevention, and may not realize that they could be, he told Reuters Health by email.

"If more advocates were aware of the Charlie Sheen Effect, more might be trying to reinforce it with additional messages," he said.

The researchers used data from Bloomberg on news reports and Google Trends to analyze English-language news containing the term HIV and U.S. internet searches for "HIV," "condom," "HIV symptoms" and "HIV testing" between January 1, 2004 and November 24, 2015.

In 2004, there were 67 stories about HIV per 1,000 news reports, according to the Bloomberg data. That fell to 12 per 1,000 in 2015. On the day of Sheen's announcement in November, those stories increased by more than 200 percent, with more than 6,500 HIV-related stories on Google News.

November 17th also saw the highest number of HIV-related Google Searches in U.S. history, more than 400 percent higher than expected on that day. Condom related searches were 72 percent higher than expected on November 18th and remained elevated for two days.

Searches pertaining to symptoms and testing were also 500 and 200 percent higher than usual, respectively, and remained high three days later, the researchers reported.

"The public is fascinated by the sex lives of movie stars," said Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Health Agency, who wrote an editor's note alongside the new results. "What is surprising is that it would cause them to seek more information about HIV prevention and testing."

"Public health for more than three decades has delivered a consistent message about HIV: Get tested, know the signs, and use condoms," Ayers said. "That message was so well engrained that when the public was presented with Sheen's HIV-positive disclosure they began seeking out public health salient information on HIV testing, the signs of HIV, and condoms."

Celebrity announcements or actions have been tied to public health effects before, as when news anchor Katie Couric was screened for colon cancer on-air in 2000, but none have been tied to an effect the size of the one tied to Sheen's announcement, he said.

"It will be sometime before the data are available to assess how HIV screening or condom sales increased," he said.

But just looking for more information is an important public health outcome itself, Ayers said.

"Our study suggests that we need to be thinking about how to harness the Charlie Sheen effect to make sure that all those motivated to think about their HIV risks around Sheen's disclosure are encouraged to continue to do so," he said.

Charlie Sheen also discontinued taking medically approved HIV medication, and a former sex partner told Howard Stern that Sheen did not appropriately reveal his HIV-positive status during their relationship, Ayers noted.

"It's harder to frame public health messages around a figure whose behavior may at times conflict with public health science," he said.

The media has a responsibility to educate and should pair every salacious story with a tip, article or referral that helps readers to protect themselves, Katz told Reuters Health by email. One such resource is

"We don't know the impact of Sheen's behaviors subsequent of his disclosure, and they should be studied," Ayers said.

"Of the more than 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, nearly one in eight are unaware of their HIV-positive status," he said. "We all want to see that number fall. I'm sure Sheen would too, and through his disclosure, it might."

Also learn about other notable celebrities diagnosed with HIV:

Notable people with HIV/AIDS
See Gallery
Charlie Sheen piqued online curiosity about HIV
Magic Johnson attends at "A Toast To Possibilities" celebrating the Magic Johnson Foundation's Point Forward Day at The Ritz Carlton Residences at L.A. Live on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision for AEG Worldwide/AP)
FILE - In this April 11, 2013 file photo, Charlie Sheen, a cast member in "Scary Movie V," poses at the Los Angeles premiere of the film at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. Sheen was sued in Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, by a dental technician who claims the actor punched her in the chest and was abusive during an office visit in late September. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, file)

American rapper Eazy-E

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Freddie Mercury

(AP Photo/Gill Allen)

Actor Rock Hudson is shown in Hollywood, Ca., in 1964. (AP Photo)
Tennis great Arthur Ashe appears on the set of ABC television's "Good Morning America" Thursday, April 9, 1992 in New York. Ashe announced Wednesday that he has AIDS and believes he contracted the HIV virus through a post operative blood transfusion during a 1983 heart operation. (AP Photo)
Alvin Ailey is shown in this Nov. 30, 1983 photo during a rehearsal in New York City. (AP Photo/Paul Burnett)
American fashion designer Perry Ellis (1940 - 1986) at the Council of Fashion Designers of America 1981 awards dinner at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, New York City, 14th January 1982. (Photo by Tom Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
New York artist Keith Haring decorates the Berlin Wall with 100 meters of graffiti. The artist, famous because of his New Yoek subway painting, begins his work near West Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie on Oct. 23, 1986. (AP Photo/Rainer Klostermeier)

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

(Photo by Leee Black Childers/Redferns)

Photographer Herb Ritts

(Star Max via AP Images)


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