The 'Charlie Sheen Effect': Surge In At-Home HIV Test Kits After Actor's Public Announcement

After Charlie Sheen’s HIV announcement the sale of at-home test kits for the virus nearly doubled, according to a study.

Human immunodeficiency virus infection, or HIV, can lead to AIDS if not treated. Amidst many rumors in 2015, the actor went on NBC’s Today Show to publicly announce he was HIV-positive. During the week of his announcement, the sale of at-home test kits soared, and continued to sell at high rates even a month later, researchers found in an updated study on the "Charlie Sheen Effect." Although the study cannot confirm his disclosure was the cause of the spike in sales, the authors observed a significant increase.

“In total, there were 8,225 more sales than expected around Sheen’s disclosure, surpassing World AIDS Day by a factor of about 7,” the authors write in their paper, published in Prevention Science.


The same researchers previously found that after Sheen’s announcement there was an increase in internet searchers for information on HIV. In their new study, they wanted to observe if the searches led to an increase in testing. To do so, they analyzed the weekly sales of OraQuick, one of two FDA-approved testing kits.

"Public health for more than three decades has delivered a consistent message about HIV: Get tested, know the signs, and use condoms," study author John W. Ayers, said in a statement. "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.”

Read: HIV And The Brain: Untreated Infections May Cause Brain Damage And Cognitive Difficulties For Youth Patients

The authors note that their most significant finding was being able to successfully use Google searches to predict HIV testing sales within 70 percent for the given weeks.

Another celebrity who went public about his HIV-status was professional basketball player Magic Johnson. "Yet, Sheen's disclosure could be different," said study author Mark Dredze. "With Sheen, unlike with Magic Johnson for instance, we have smartphones in our pockets that we can easily use to learn about HIV within seconds with a single search or click."

Drezde describes his disclosure as “potentially the most significant domestic HIV prevention event ever." Furthermore, the authors note that their findings “reinforce how celebrity can impact health-decision making.”

A similar effect was seen in 2013 when actress Angelina Jolie revealed she carried the BRCA gene and underwent a double mastectomy to lower her risk of developing breast cancer. After her announcement, there was a noticeable spike in genetic testing for breast cancer genes.

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Medical Daily
Theodore L. Caputi
Theodore L. Caputi
Economics & Health Researcher

My research interests include public health, health innovation, and health care.