Celebrity Power to Drive Testing Extends Beyond ‘Angelina Jolie Effect’

The power of celebrity impacts health decisions and drives testing decisions beyond the “Angelina Jolie effect.” A study published in the July issue of Prevention Science demonstrates the “Charlie Sheen effect,” which found that the actor’s public disclosure of his positive HIV status drove record sales of rapid in-home HIV test kits. Furthermore, the researchers found that increased sales can be predicted by Web searches, which may provide a future means of planning for public health screening responses to real-time events.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that untested individuals are responsible for most new HIV infections and that seizing on opportunities to increase testing awareness is the most cost-effective HIV prevention strategy. This study can inform how to capitalize on future opportunities to increase screening.

OraQuick (OraSure Technologies; Bethlehem, Penn.) is the only Food and Drug Administration-approved rapid in-home HIV test kit available in the United States. U.S. sales of OraQuick were evaluated weekly from April 12, 2014, to April 16, 2016, along with Web searches for the terms “test,” “tests,” or “testing” and “HIV” using Google Trends. Changes in OraQuick sales around Sheen’s disclosure based upon expected sales and prediction models using Web searches were assessed.

The researchers found that OraQuick sales rose significantly, 95 percent, the week of Sheen’s disclosure and remained significantly elevated for four more weeks. In total, there were 8,225 more sales than expected following Sheen’s disclosure, surpassing orders around the World AIDS Day campaign by a factor of seven. For comparison, OraQuick sales the week of World Aids Day increased significantly, but by only 31 percent.  Following World Aids Day sales returned to expected levels the next week.

Web searches mirrored OraQuick sales trends, demonstrating their ability to foretell increases in testing. The researchers found that knowing search volumes alone produced sales predictions with an average relative error rate within 7 percent.

“The public’s health decisions are heavily influenced by public figures and reveal an opportunity for the prevention community to target health behaviors when related issues are widely publicized in the media,” write the authors led by Jon-Patrick Allem, Ph.D., from University of Southern California in Los Angeles.


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