Charlie Sheen's HIV Diagnosis Fueled Major Increase in “Condom” Google Searches

Celebrity involvement in health issues typically results in more public awareness, and Charlie Sheen’s human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis was no exception.

primary care, family medicine, internal medicine, hospital medicine, infectious disease, HIV, AIDS, sexual health, STDs, condoms, contraception

Celebrity involvement in health issues typically results in more public awareness, and Charlie Sheen’s human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis was no exception.

On November 17, 2015, the former Two and Half Men star appeared on the TODAY show for an interview with Matt Lauer. This is where he confirmed rumors that he was in fact HIV-positive. Ever since then, there has been a surge of interest in the condition, to the point where it’s taken over Google searches.

“Charlie Sheen’s disclosure was potentially the most significant domestic HIV prevention event ever,” Mark Dredze, PhD, an assistant research professor at Johns Hopkins, said in a news release.

The researchers assessed news media trends from Google Trends and Bloomberg Terminal, as described in JAMA Internal Medicine. They tracked HIV and HIV prevention engagement since 2004. There is a lot more media coverage and access to that media coverage now than there was when Magic Johnson confirmed his HIV-positive status in 1991, Dredze explained. It only takes a few seconds to get the information on HIV or anything else someone decides to Google.

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On the day that Sheen made his HIV announcement, there was a 265% increase in news reports talking about HIV — 97% of them mentioned Sheen as well. There was also an additional 6,500 HIV stories on Google News. These stats sealed Sheen’s spot among the top 1% of historic HIV-related media events.

Taking previous trends in mind, there were 2.75 million more Google searches than expected. Sheen’s announcement appears to have caused the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches on a single day in the United States ever.

The data was broken down further to analyze exactly what key terms people were searching for on the day Sheen revealed his diagnosis. The results were sorted into four categories. All searches were significantly higher than on a normal day and stayed higher for three days.

  • 417% increase for HIV (all searches with “HIV”)
  • 75% increase for condoms (all searches with “condom” or “condoms”)
  • 540% increase for HIV symptomology (all searches with “HIV” and “symptom,” “symptoms,” or “signs of”)
  • 214% increase for HIV testing (all searches with “HIV” and “test,” “tests,” or “testing”)

HIV-related news has been on a decline, but Sheen’s public confirmation bounced those numbers way up. Now the challenge is to keep HIV safety relevant. The findings can help public health officials monitor HIV-related trends and create a fresh approach to the condition.

  • Related: Charlie Sheen on HIV: “This Disease Chose the Wrong Person”

“Public health for more than three decades has delivered a consistent message about HIV: Get tested, know the signs and use condoms,” said one of the authors John Ayers, PhD, MA. “That message was so well-ingrained 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.”

How does Charlie Sheen feel about breaking these records? Well, he actually tweeted about it and provided a link to the study.

honored, humbled,





— Charlie Sheen (@charliesheen) February 22, 2016

Also on MD Magazine >>> Only One-Third of Sexually Active Young Adults Have Been Tested for HIV

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