Controversial celebrity Charlie Sheen recently shocked the world by announcing that he was HIV positive, a story that The Inquisitr covered back in November. But it seems the bombshell Charlie Sheen dropped had such a major impact on the United States that his diagnosis may actually help to raise awareness about the condition.
According to ABC News, the announcement made by Charlie Sheen on November 16, 2015 resulted in the largest number ever recorded of HIV-related internet searches in the United States. A study was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, detailing the result of the actor’s illness, called “News and Internet Searches About Human Immunodeficiency Virus After Charlie Sheen’s Disclosure.” Researchers are calling this trend the “Charlie Sheen effect,” because of the massive influence that the notoriously brazen celebrity has on American culture.
Just how much curiously about HIV did Charlie Sheen generate? Study co-author John Ayers from San Diego State University in California claims that his HIV announcement provoked a staggering 540 percent increase in people looking up the symptoms of the disease. Searches related to HIV testing increased 214 percent. The nature of these two internet inquiries seems to suggest that many Americans were concerned that they, too, may have contracted HIV if somebody as famous as Charlie Sheen did.
While this may just appear to be an example of wide-scale hypochondria, the fear that Charlie Sheen instilled in many Americans may actually save lives. The CDC reports that one in every eight people who are HIV positive have no idea they have the disease. Symptoms do not develop immediately, so some individuals go years without seeking treatment.
While other celebrities have been diagnosed with HIV, Charlie Sheen is the first huge star to have the disease in the era of mobile web searching, according to NBC News. As a result, the authors of the study are interested in utilizing the awareness that Charlie Sheen brought to HIV research.
“The difference between this effect and the effect from other celebrities such as Magic Johnson announcing their HIV status is that now everyone has a smart phone is his or her pocket, there is instant access to information,” Ayers explained. “I hope that this will lead us to look for ways to prolong this effect.”
And it wasn’t just internet searches that Charlie Sheen provoked. After his November announcement, sales for an FDA-approved at-home HIV test made by OraSure Technologies more than doubled. The test sold 38 percent more than they did in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Dr. Baron Lerner from the NYU Langone Medical Center spoke to ABCNews about how a disease affecting someone as famous as Charlie Sheen can have a positive global impact. While some may not have been surprised about Charlie Sheen being HIV positive due to his affinity for hard partying, Dr. Lerner says that drugs and sex aren’t always the cause.
“It always helps to get people to think about something anew when there’s a particular case. Over and over when a celeb comes forward on a disease… it’s an opportunity again for people who are interested in it to revisit it. I had patients come in and asked me questions. Some of them assume he must have used drugs or had unprotected sex with a man, I’m like you know that’s not necessarily the case at all.”
Lerner added that studies like the one published today in JAMA demonstrates how celebrities can make a lasting impact on healthcare, even if they (like Charlie Sheen) didn’t mean to.
For more on Charlie Sheen, read about how he’s “amazed he’s still alive” after one doctor’s method of treating HIV.
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