Mental health patients four times more likely to have HIV

Individuals who receive mental health care are about four times more likely to be be infected with HIV than the general population, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania.

A study involving over 1,000 patients in Philadelphia and Baltimore suggested that most patients aren't getting tested for the condition, despite recommendations from the CDC and the Institute of Medicine.

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"These findings paint a recent picture of HIV infection rates in the community, and reinforce how important it is to identify patients and get them into appropriate infectious disease care in a timely manner while being treated for mental illness," said lead author Michael B. Blank, PhD, associate professor in Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Severity could determine risk

The study also found that people with more severe symptoms of mental illness had a greater risk for being infected with HIV. Populations that are already considered at risk for HIV, like gay, bisexual or African American men, were also more likely to be infected - suggesting that even in areas where HIV rates are low, individuals with mental health issues should be regularly tested.

The authors note that while previous studies have found a link between mental illness and HIV, many were from the 1990s and early 2000s and included small sample sizes.

"The results of this important study highlight the need for research into integrated treatments for people with complex, co-occurring conditions like HIV and mental illness," said Dr. Dwight L. Evans, chair of Psychiatry at the Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Center.

Health care system changes needed

The researchers said that current health care approaches may not be best equipped to deal with instances where mental illness and HIV go hand-in-hand. Integrated approaches, like having HIV testing in mental health settings, will achieve the best outcomes, they noted.

"With such a high-risk group, it's imperative to be routinely testing patients to improve care and reduce transmissions to others," they concluded. "Historically, though, HIV testing is often not implemented in mental health care."

The research is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

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