Psychosocial Factors, Spirituality/
Religiousness, and Immune Function
in HIV/AIDS Patients
GAIL IRONSON & NEIL SCHNEIDERMAN
In 2000, it was estimated that 36 million people worldwide had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and that 15,000 people were being newly infected with the virus each day (CDC, 2000). In 1999 alone, 3 million people worldwide died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) (CDC, 2000). Although the HIV epidemic has created an unprecedented challenge for medical researchers throughout the world attempting to understand how the virus infects and overwhelms its host, it has become increasingly clear over the years that, in many ways, HIV is no different from all the other infectious diseases, both viral and bacterial, that have threatened humankind throughout the millennia.
In fact, just as diseases such as tuberculosis and herpes have been found to be prone to influence by psychological and social factors that affect immunological resistance to them, so, too, has HIV. Because HIV is a disease characterized by immune system dysfunction and is also resisted by the immune system, it would seem that PNI effects on immune functions might have an even greater impact on the course of HIV infection than on the course of other infectious diseases. In particular, it appears people's psychological health, how they cope with stressors, their social connections, and their beliefs and attitudes can play a significant role in the course of HIV infection. It also appears that individuals' religious and spiritual beliefs can affect these factors, thereby indirectly playing a role in the course of HIV infection as well.