Background. Recent literature has demonstrated that psychiatric patients, particularly those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, may be at high risk for HIV infection. In fact, HIV-risk behaviour, such as intravenous drug with sharing needles, promiscuity associated with unprotected sex and high-risk sexual activity after using drugs has been reported by a substantial proportion of mentally ill patients.
Methods. In order to examine this problem in Italy, HIV-risk taking behaviour and knowledge about HIV/AIDS was investigated among 91 schizophrenic patients by using two self-report questionnaires (HIV-Risk Behaviour Questionnaire; AIDS-Risk Behaviour Knowledge Test).
Results. One-third of the patients reported having been tested for HIV infection and one tested seropositive (prevalence 3·4%). A high proportion of patients reported HIV-risk behaviour, such as injected drugs use (22·4%) and engaging in high risk sexual activity (e.g. multiple partners, 58%; prostitutes, 45%; occasional partners, 37%). Condoms were ‘never used’ by 41% of the patients and ‘almost never used’ by another 25%. In spite of these behaviours, 65% reported no concern of HIV infection. Knowledge about AIDS was lower among psychiatric patients than a healthy control group. Patients with long-lasting illness and numerous psychiatric admissions were less acknowledgeable about HIV infection. Certain misconceptions on HIV transmission were related to HIV risk behaviour.
Conclusions. These results indicate the urgent need for HIV educational programmes within mental health community-care settings.
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