Thursday, 22 February 2007

A note on HIV patients

The effect of the psychosocial environment on the course of HIV infection and the development of AIDS has been studied from the early days of its appearance in the West. As this memorial note describes, already in the 1970s George Solomon was investigating "the characteristics of long-term AIDS patients and the psychobiological mechanisms that contributed to their health and longevity". His book 'From Psyche to Soma and Back' is a fascinating account of this work, and of his whole research career.

Now we live in a time when anti-retroviral drugs have proved to be very effective, and one might be excused for thinking psychological factors are no longer of any import. So we were very interested to receive the following note.
A consultant working with HIV has observed the effects of psychological factors on the body over several years of his practice. When HIV/AIDS first appeared and medicine struggled to deal with the virus all the early patients died. Now it is quite rare for people to die and a high percentage of HIV+ patients consistently have undetectable viral load.

He has always tried to create good personal relationships with patients. This is partly inevitable due to the aspects of life examined in the course of treatment, such as sex, love, guilt and death; but it also seemed to help keep people in better health and more likely to stick to their drug regimens once the current, highly effective, combination therapies were developed.

A few years ago, he was absent from his post for some months; he noticed when he returned and checked results on patients' viral loads, that some of those whose levels had been undetectable for long periods of time had shown a significant increase. They went back to undetectable levels after he'd been back a couple of months.

The psychological relation to the doctor here seems to be having a direct effect on the body.
This condition is an excellent one to study as viral loads are measured regularly and frequently.

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