How Charlie Sheen’s disclosure led to surge in HIV coverage

New York, Feb 23 (IANS) Soon after the disclosure by actor Charlie Sheen on TV that he was HIV-positive, there has been a surge in both news coverage of HIV and Google searches for information about HIV and HIV prevention, a new study has found.

A computer scientist from Johns Hopkins University analysed online news and search engine records to gauge the public’s response to actor Charlie Sheen’s disclosure on NBC’s “TODAY Show” in November last year that he was HIV-positive.

“Charlie Sheen’s disclosure was potentially the most significant domestic HIV prevention event ever,” said Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins.

The researchers knew that the involvement of a celebrity often raises public awareness about a health issue.

They wondered whether Sheen’s disclosure had shone a fresh spotlight on HIV and in doing so, produced an important public health benefit.

To find out, the team turned to public archives for news media trends, using the Bloomberg Terminal and Google Trends to collect data describing HIV and HIV prevention engagement since 2004.

Focusing on the hours after Sheen’s disclosure, the team monitored news reports mentioning HIV and Google searches originating from the US, said the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

This big data strategy allowed researchers to provide a formative assessment of the potential impacts of Charlie Sheen’s HIV-positive disclosure at no cost.

The day of Sheen’s disclosure coincided with a 265 percent increase in news reports mentioning HIV (97 percent of which also mentioned Sheen) archived on the Bloomberg Terminal.

An additional 6,500 stories were reported on Google News alone. This placed Sheen’s disclosure among the top one percent of historic HIV-related media events.

Sheen’s disclosure also corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the US on a single day.

In relative terms, all HIV searches were 417 percent higher than expected the day of Sheen’s disclosure, the study noted.

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