May 27, 2022

Public Health: Web Search Study Finds a ‘Charlie Sheen Effect’ on HIV Prevention

From Johns Hopkins University:

A Johns Hopkins computer scientist played a key role in a new study that analyzed online news and search engine records to gauge the public’s response to actor Charlie Sheen’s Nov. 17, 2015, disclosure on NBC’s TODAY Show that he was HIV-positive.

The multi-institution study, published Feb. 22 by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, found that there were record highs in domestic news coverage of HIV and in Google searches for information about HIV and HIV prevention soon after Sheen’s announcement.

“Charlie Sheen’s disclosure was potentially the most significant domestic HIV prevention event ever,” said Mark Dredze, a Johns Hopkins researcher who has been a leader in the study of online data to monitor the spread of flu cases, mental illness trends and other health topics. Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, is a coauthor of the new JAMA IM study.

For the study, Dredze worked with John W. Ayers, a research professor at the San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, and Benjamin M. Althouse, a research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling and the Santa Fe Institute. (Both Ayers and Althouse earned their doctoral degrees at Johns Hopkins.) Ayers initiated the study and served as lead author.

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 United States and sorted into four categories: HIV (all searches with “HIV”), condoms (all searches with “condom” or “condoms”), HIV symptomology (all searches with “symptom,” “symptoms” or “signs of” and “HIV”), and HIV testing (all searches with “test,” “tests,” or “testing” and “HIV”).

In relative terms, all HIV searches were 417 percent higher than expected the day of Sheen’s disclosure. Condom searches (such as “buy condoms”) increased 75 percent. HIV symptom (such as “signs of HIV”) and HIV testing (such as “find HIV testing”) searches increased 540 and 214 percent, respectively, the day of Sheen’s disclosure and remained higher for three days. 

Read the Complete Article

Direct to Research Article: News and Internet Searches About Human Immunodeficiency Virus After Charlie Sheen’s Disclosure (via JAMA Internal Medicine)
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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.