Psychiatric symptoms and disorders in HIV infected mine workers in South Africa A retrospective descriptive study of acute first admissions

  • L Säll
  • E Salamon
  • C Allgulander
  • B Owe-Larsson
Keywords: AIDS, Dementia, Delirium, Psychosis, Secondary mania


Objective: The social and living conditions of mine workers in South Africa contribute to a rapid transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections. HIV-associated dementia is a serious condition during HIV disease. Several other psychiatric symptoms and disorders, such as psychosis, secondary mania and depression, have also been associated with clinical HIV infection. We describe the onset of psychiatric symptoms and signs in a group of untreated, HIVinfected male mine workers first admitted for psychiatric treatment at the Rand Mutual Hospital in Johannesburg. Method: Between 1987 and 1997, 38 consecutive cases were admitted, and their files were retrieved for study in 2006. The subjects were 38 black male mine workers admitted acutely for psychiatric care due to psychiatric symptoms, and subsequently diagnosed with HIV infection. The presenting psychiatric symptoms on admission and diagnoses at discharge were compiled for all patients, not to infer causality but to establish the range of symptoms that the clinician has to deal with. Results: The 38 patients presented with a wide range of psychiatric symptoms. The dominating symptoms were those of cognitive deficits, and different psychotic manifestations. 12 of the patients, almost one third of the individuals, were diagnosed with dementia. The patients with dementia
exhibited cognitive deficits, and in addition often abnormal behaviour and psychotic symptoms, and several also had symptoms of secondary mania. 5 of the patients presented with delirium. Psychosis, without concurrent dementia, was diagnosed in 5 patients. Bipolar disorder with mania, without concurrent dementia, and major depression was present in 2 patients, respectively. Screening for substance abuse showed that 9 of the patients had ongoing cannabis abuse and 10 had alcohol abuse.  Cannabis-induced psychotic disorder was present in 5 patients. Conclusion: The findings confirm that patients with a new diagnosis of HIV may present with disorders of thought and/or cognition as well as gross behavioural disturbance, and that psychotic symptoms and secondary mania could be manifestations of the clinical onset of HIV/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) infection.

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eISSN: 1994-8220