Mentally Ill at Higher Risk of Hepatitis C Infection; Treatment Can Cause Additional Mental Problems
Almost 20% of people in United States with severe mental illness have hepatitis C infection, compared with 1.8% of the general U.S. population, because many people with mental illness are exposed to risk factors for bloodborne viruses, the Dallas Morning News/Tallahassee Democrat reports. People with severe mental illness who are also injection drug users are less able to afford clean needles or cleaning supplies and are less likely to take part in needle-exchange programs, according to the multistate Five-Site Health and Risk Study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. Injection drug use accounts for 70% of new hepatitis C cases. In addition, patients with mental illness may have impaired thinking that makes them unable to practice safer sex, recognize symptoms of a developing illness or afford medical appointments to diagnose the problem. Finally, the mentally ill are more likely to live in or have spent time around other high risk people -- either in urban centers, jails or psychiatric hospitals. "Hepatitis C is really a psychiatric illness," Dr. Peter Hauser, clinical director of mental health at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said, adding, "New infections are caused increasingly by IV drug use. So that immediately puts it into the realm of psychiatry, or more generally, mental health." In addition, the standard treatment for hepatitis C can "fuel new mental problems" and exacerbate existing ones, according to the Morning News/Democrat. The Five-Site research team suggested an integrated treatment of mental disorders and substance abuse as a means of fighting addiction and reducing the transmission of hepatitis C (Patterson, Dallas Morning News/Tallahassee Democrat, 7/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.