Mental health patients more likely to contract HIV

By Jenna Iacurci, Parent Herald February 14, 12:07 pm

Mental health patients are four times more likely to contract HIV, according to a report published in the American Journal of Public Health.

In one of the largest studies ever, researchers used rapid HIV testing on 1,061 people (621 men and 436 women) seeking mental health treatment between 2009-2011 for symptoms including depression, psychosis and substance abuse.

Using this method to estimate HIV prevalence and risk factors among those receiving treatment in mental health settings, the findings indicated that 4.8 percent of these mental health patients (51 individuals) had HIV. This is four times more than the CDC's reported base rates for Philadelphia (1.4 percent) and Baltimore (1.3 percent) - the cities in which patients were tested.

Thirteen people out of these 51 said they weren't aware they were infected with HIV, which was especially astonishing given they were already getting mental health care in a public health facility. The results suggest mental health patients are at greater risk for becoming HIV positive, even in U.S. cities, where prevalence of the virus should be lower, according to the authors.

Lead author Dr. Michael B. Blank said increased testing is the solution.

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

Results also showed that patients whose mental health symptoms were more severe, or were African American, gay or bisexual, or had Hepatitis C, were at greater risk of becoming HIV-infected.

The CDC and the Institute of Medicine recommend routine HIV screenings in all clinical settings, especially in mental health settings, to better identify and thereby treat infected patients.

The study's authors agree better integration of HIV testing in mental health settings will alleviate the problem, further noting that its trickle down effects could help reduce economic costs associated with HIV treatment and prevent the virus from lingering in mental health facilities.

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