Infectious Disease and Psychiatric Morbidity

By Ritchie, Elspeth Cameron | Clinical Psychiatry News, August 2014 | Go to article overview

Infectious Disease and Psychiatric Morbidity


Ritchie, Elspeth Cameron, Clinical Psychiatry News


When I was in medical school, I was torn between going into infectious diseases--I had loved Rats, Lice, and History (Boston: Little, Brown 8C Co., 1935)--and psychiatry. I spent a month at the former Army facility, Gorgas Hospital, in Panama City, studying tropical diseases. I found that looking at slides under a microscope gave me headaches and ended up studying psychiatry at Walter Reed, which was in Washington at the time.

But I remained fascinated by the intersection between tropical disease and their psychiatric manifestations. These included the neuropsychiatric manifestations of schistosomiasis cysts in the brain--and the neurologic effects of Lyme disease and tetanus. But this was a relatively arcane area in the United States.

Then came the AIDS epidemic. AIDS showed both the connections between reckless behavior and the drastic effects of the virus on the brain. There was also the fear factor. Back when AIDS was new, medical students and doctors entered hospital rooms in gowns, masks, and gloves. We feared the infected needle stick.

Now AIDS is a chronic disease, not a death sentence. If we are exposed, there are prophylactic medications.

Then there were the anthrax letters. Five died. …

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