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Flu Season, and the Links Between Mental Health and Infectious Diseases: Public Health Watch

In fact, on this latter point, a study published in September in the International Journal of Women’s Health, differentiated between “behaviorally infected” HIV-positive women (those who were diagnosed later in life as a result of engaging in high-risk behaviors) and those who were “perinatally” infected, and found higher levels of “depressive symptomatology” in the behavioral group. The authors attributed this to the “temporal proximity of their diagnosis”—those in the behavioral group had learned of their diagnosis within 4 years of study participation, whereas those in the perinatal group had lived with HIV for most if not all their lives (average age 21 years)—though it’s worth noting here that this study included just 34 subjects, all HIV-positive women between 16 and 29 years of age. However, the findings are still significant.

Indeed, there are indications that a more holistic, “mind-body” approach to care among clinicians treating patients with infectious diseases can yield positive results. Researchers in Denmark, for example, published a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which enrolled half of the HIV-positive subjects in a 3-day educational program that included teachings on “Native American philosophy” and “how changes affect human beings and create imbalance.” They found that those patients who participated in the education program had reduced risk for depression and stress and stronger coping skills.

To be clear here, we’re not suggesting that Native American medicine can cure infectious diseases such as influenza or HIV, and we doubt the researchers in Denmark are either. However, remembering the links between mental health and infectious diseases diagnoses during the course of care is obviously important.

After all, the goal of all treatment is to make patients “feel better,” isn’t it?
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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