ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – A new study has fond that mental health patients are up to four times more likely to contract HIV than the general population.

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania tested over 1,000 patients in care located in Philadelphia, PA or Baltimore, MD.  In that group, several new HIV cases were detected which suggested to researchers that not all patients are getting tested in mental health care settings even though the CDC and the Institute of Medicine recommend testing.

“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 in a press release. “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.”

In this study, researchers provided rapid HIV testing to 621 men and 436 women who were seeking treatment for symptoms, including depression, psychosis, and substance abuse.  The individuals were being treated at university-based inpatient psychiatry units, intensive case-management programs, and community mental health centers from January 2009 to August 2011.

Researchers found that 4.8 percent  or 51 individuals of the mental health patients receiving care were infected with HIV.  Of those found to be infected, 13 said they did not know they were HIV positive.  Study results also demonstrated that people with more sever symptoms of mental illness were at  higher risk for being HIV-infected.

“The results of this important study highlight the need for research into integrated treatments for people with complex, co-occurring conditions like HIV and mental illness,” Dr. Dwight L. Evans, chair of Psychiatry, said in a press release.

The study, which is one of the largest studies to date to estimate HIV prevalence and risk factors among persons receiving treatment in mental health settings, was published Feb. 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.

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