A new study has found that people receiving mental health care are up to four times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population.
Researchers at Penn Medicine and other institutions tested over 1,000 patients in care in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Of that group, several new HIV cases were detected.
The study is one of the largest studies to date to estimate HIV prevalence and risk factors among persons receiving treatment in mental health settings and included researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the University of Maryland and Columbia University Medical Center.
"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," lead author Michael B. Blank, PhD, associate professor in Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine, said.
"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," the researcher said.
The research team found that 4.8 percent of the mental health patients receiving care (51 individuals) were infected with HIV, which is about four times the base rate in each city and about 16 times the base rate for the United States population.
Thirteen of the 51 infected patients reported that they did not know they were HIV positive, which represents an important failure in our public health system since they were already receiving ongoing mental health care.
Results of the study also showed that persons with more severe symptoms of mental illness were at higher risk for being HIV-infected.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.