EastEnders HIV episode prompts massive surge in viewers looking up virus

Zack Hudson's storyline about being HIV-positive led viewers to immediately search for information about HIV.

EastEnders actor, James Farrar, poses in a gray tshirt, his character is HIV positive.
Image: Twitter @LewisJohnY2

After viewing the January 16 episode of EastEnders when Zack Hudson’s character received news that he is HIV positive, viewers immediately began researching the diagnosis.

Sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust reported observing a 75% increase in traffic to the HIV content on their website after the episode aired.

The charity worked directly with the EastEnders team to create a storyline that honestly and accurately depicts what it is like to live with HIV today, in hopes that it would normalise conversations about the reality of HIV among viewers.

Future episodes are expected to delve deeper into Hudson’s character’s experience with HIV and spread information about prevention and treatment. The prevailing message will be that people living with HIV in 2023 are able to live normal and fulfilling lives.

The team at Terrence Higgins Trust said that the spike in traffic reflects the conversations that are already happening after this first episode. Information about how HIV is transmitted, the stages of HIV infection, symptoms of HIV, and post-exposure treatment, were among their most viewed pages.

Chief Executive Ian Green said that in the 1990s, during the height of the HIV epidemic, their charity worked alongside EastEnders writers to create a groundbreaking story that, “…helped change a generation’s attitude about HIV at a time when hysteria was rife.”

He added, “We’re delighted to be working with the BBC again on Zack’s storyline to show how much medical progress has been made since the Mark Fowler days, but also how stigma continues to be a huge burden on the lives of people living with HIV.”

Shows and films that normalise HIV play a powerful role in community change. For example, the powerful documentary How To Tell A Secret addresses important conversations about destigmatising HIV.

While huge strides have been made regarding the destigmatisation of HIV across the world, the stigma associated with HIV still acts as a barrier that prevents many from getting tested.

Testing greatly reduces the spread of HIV and other STIs, and home testing reduces the stress associated with scheduling an in-person appointment. Earlier this year, the HSE announced that free at-home STI testing is available to everyone in Ireland.

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