Anecdotal reports that viral infections such as mononucleosis lead to depression and other psychiatric disorders have been rebutted by a study that followed 144 HMO patients.
After following the patients for six months from the onset of acute infectious mononucleosis, Wayne Katon, MD, and his University of Washington colleagues report in the January issue of General Hospital Psychiatry, the researchers found that transient psychological distress and impairment were common among the mostly student population (64 percent) during the acute phase of illness, few met the diagnostic criteria for psychiatric illness.
"This study suggests that postviral depression is rare and that at six months after mononucleosis people who are still depressed probably are depressed due to new stressful life events rather than viral effects," Katon says.
At the onset of the infection, 4.9 percent of the patients met psychiatric criteria for current major depression, 1.4 percent for panic disorder, and none for generalized anxiety disorder. These rates are similar to those found in the general population, according to the researchers. Initial psychiatric illness or distress did not predict distress two or six months later, Katon and his colleagues found.
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