Talk about a silver lining! After Charlie Sheen bravely announced that he was HIV-positive back in November, a new study from San Diego State University suggests that the actor’s revelation is starting to save lives.
Since Sheen, 50, told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that he’d been secretly living with the disease since 2011, researchers at San Diego State have found that there’s been a significant surge in the number of HIV-related searches on Google.
“Since 2004, news reports about HIV decreased from 67 stories per 1,000 to 12 stories per 1,000 in 2015,” says the school’s research team. “Sheen’s disclosure also corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States.”
And the public isn’t just curious about how the disease pertains to the Anger Management star.
“About 2.75 million more searches than expected included the term HIV, and 1.25 million searches were directly relevant to public health outcomes because they included search terms for condoms, HIV symptoms, or HIV testing,” researchers add.
On the day of Sheen’s Today interview alone — November 17, 2015 — Google saw its largest number of HIV-related searches in more than a decade. Not only that, researchers found that on that very same day, 6,500 news articles about HIV appeared on Google News. Researchers believe that an increase in awareness is the key to prevention.
“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,” John Ayers of San Diego State University explains. “More must be done to make this benefit larger and lasting.”
Concerning what they are dubbing the “Charlie Sheen effect,” Ayers and his team write in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine: “Just as with celebrities Rock Hudson’s and Magic Johnson‘s disclosures of their HIV-positive status, Sheen’s disclosure may be similarly reinvigorating awareness and prevention of HIV.”
After revealing his diagnosis last fall, Sheen hoped he might be able to inspire some change.
“I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity to help others. A challenge to better myself,” he wrote in an open letter published on November 17, 2015. “My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me … I’ve served my time under pressure; I now embrace the courage, and the grace. Love and peace, Charlie Sheen.”