Charlie Sheen's 2015 announcement that he was diagnosed with HIV years earlier seems to have sparked higher interest in testing for the virus, according to a study released today.
"Our new findings reinforce how a celebrity can impact health decision-making and make an even stronger case that Sheen's disclosure promoted HIV prevention, thanks to the availability of rapid in-home HIV testing", John W. Ayers, PhD, research professor at San Diego University Graduate School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote.
For their study, the researchers monitored weekly sales of OraQuick (OraSure Technologies, Inc.), the only in-home rapid HIV test available in the United States, from April 12, 2014 to April 16, 2016. Middle panel shows the effect estimates for sales by week following Sheen's disclosure and World Aids Day until the increase was no longer significant. Sales remained significantly higher for the following three weeks, with 8,225 more sales than expected.
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"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.
OraQuick sales in the time period around Sheen's disclosure were almost eight times greater than sales around World Aids Day, one of the most well-known and longest-running HIV prevention awareness events. They then used data from Google Trends on searches with "test", "tests", or "testing" and "HIV" to determine whether the increase in internet queries around Sheen's disclosure correlated with an increase in testing. Study leaders say it may signal ways to get more Americans to know their HIV status. "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".
The OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test became available for retail sale in October 2012.