They’re calling it the “Sheen Effect.”
The week actor Charlie Sheen went on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday to confirm rumors that he was HIV-positive, sales of at-home test kits for the virus rose 95%.
That’s according to a new study from researchers at the University of Southern California and San Diego State University, which also found that the kits continued to sell at higher rates than expected for a month after the announcement.
While they can’t say for sure that Sheen’s disclosure caused the rise in sales of the test kits, the bump they observed was record-setting.
“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 researchers write in their paper.
In November 2015, Sheen appeared on NBC’s “Today” show to disclose his positive status.
“I’m here to admit that I am HIV-positive,” he said.
Sheen’s physician, UCLA assistant professor of clinical medicine Robert Huizenga, also appeared on the show at the time, generating some confusion when he said that Sheen’s HIV was “undetectable” in his blood — a proclamation that led some to believe the actor had been “cured.” In reality, Sheen’s HIV had simply been reduced to an undetectable level thanks to treatment with a powerful three-drug cocktail known as antiretroviral therapy (ART).
As far as current reports are concerned, Sheen does not have AIDS, a condition that can develop when the HIV virus has dramatically suppressed the immune system to the point where someone is highly susceptible to infections and rare types of cancer.
Sheen maintained at the time that he told all of his partners of his HIV status, adding that many threatened to blackmail him for a sum totaling “into the millions.”
The actor said in 2015 he learned he had HIV in 2011 after suffering from extreme migraines and “sweating the bed.” Thinking he might have a brain tumor, he was hospitalized. But after numerous tests, doctors confirmed he had HIV. One of the reasons HIV can go long periods before being diagnosed is that its earliest symptoms can mirror those of the flu — many people experience a fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and swollen glands.
The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.
While there are plenty of places to get tested for free, fear, stigma, and other socioeconomic barriers can prevent many from doing so. Today, one in eight of the 1.2 million Americans living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not know they are positive.
For their study, the researchers analyzed two years of sales data for HIV test kit OraQuick, the only fast-acting at-home kit available in the US. They then compared those sales data against data from the same time period in years before and after.
What they found was astounding: Not only had sales increased 95% the week of Sheen’s disclosure, they also stayed relatively high for the four following weeks.
It’s well-known that celebrities influence our behavior. Yet when it comes to health, it’s often not for the better. From splurging $200 on a breakfast smoothie infused with something called “moon dust” (looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow) to subsisting on 14 jars of baby food in an attempt to lose weight (sorry, Reese Witherspoon), celebrities’ decisions about health can frequently be misguided at best.
So it’s promising to see public figures potentially affecting health in a positive direction, the researchers write.
“Our new findings reinforce how celebrity can impact health decision-making,” they write, “and make an even stronger case that Sheen’s disclosure promoted HIV prevention, thanks to the availability of rapid in-home HIV testing.”
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