On November 17, 2015, actor Charlie Sheen publicly disclosed he was HIV-positive on NBC’s Today Show. How might such celebrity announcements affect public health in the population at large? That’s a question scientists and advocates grappled with in a study published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine led by San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health research professor John W. Ayers. The researchers found that Sheen’s disclosure corresponded with millions of online search queries for HIV prevention and testing, even though neither Sheen himself nor public health leaders called for such action at the time.
In a new, follow-up study published in the journal Prevention Science, Ayers and colleagues found that not only did Sheen’s disclosure lead people to seek information about HIV, it also corresponded with record levels of at-home rapid HIV testing sales.
The team collected data on weekly sales of OraQuick, the only rapid in-home HIV test kit available in the United States, to investigate whether Internet queries (based on Google Trends data on searches with “test,” “tests,” or “testing” and “HIV”) could be correlated with any uptick in HIV testing.