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Psychoneuroimmunology: Bridging the Gap Between Psychiatrists & ID Physicians?

Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, explains how psychoneuroimmunology can work to bridge the gap between psychiatrists and infectious disease physicians to improve patient care.

Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, private practice, Psychiatry, in Red Bank, New Jersey, explains how psychoneuroimmunology can work to bridge the gap between psychiatrists and infectious disease physicians to improve patient care.

Interview Transcript (modified slightly for readability):

“The thought that infection can cause mental problems is foreign to the training of both psychiatrist and infectious disease doctors.

I was trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst—which was a very different kind of training—and most infectious disease doctors have very little psychiatric training. Your average infectious disease doctor maybe spent a month in a state hospital thirty years ago when he/she was a medical student and that might be the [extent] of their training.

So, there is this close correlation it seems between infections provoking the immune system, those immune effects causing psychiatric illness, which, in turn, may cause suicide or other psychiatric illness. We, therefore, see a disease, it starts in an infectious disease doctor’s office and ends up in a psychiatrist’s office. So, what we need is [for] infectious disease doctors to learn more psychoneuroimmunology and psychiatry, and psychiatrists need to learn more psychoneuroimmunology and infectious disease. And psychoneuroimmunology is what bridges the gap—looking at how the immune system affects brain functioning.

[For] psychoneuroimmunology we’re looking at how different transmitters affect brain functioning. We think of neurotransmitters, but one set is the neurotransmitters, the other set is the immune system; they’re two parallel communications that impact brain functioning, and we need to understand both. And once we look at that, we’ll get answers that we’ve previously been unable to find.”