25 May 1998

Moving House Hastens Advancement Of HIV

Social disruption - including moving house or being separated from a partner - may have a negative impact on the body's ability to ward off the advancement of HIV. In a study conducted by psychologists at the University of California, psychosocial trauma resulting from changes in living circumstances has been linked to shorter survival in monkeys infected with a virus that causes AIDS. Whether the findings, published in the May-June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, can be extrapolated to humans is still open to question.

Studying nearly three hundred monkeys infected with an immunodefinciency virus similar in nature to HIV, the researchers found that those who were separated from a familiar companion or experienced a change in housing developed AIDS faster than those whose lifestyles remained unchanged. In addition, such disruptions seemed to have a more serious impact if they occurred in the earlier stages of the disease.

The authors speculate that psychosocial factors may activate the body's stress response system, resulting in stress-related hormone changes. Such changes might stimulate the virus to reproduce more rapidly, thereby speeding up damage to the immune system.

"Since early in the AIDS epidemic, psychologists have believed that social disruption in HIV-infected people could hasten the progression of the disease," says John Capitanio, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study. "These data provide strong support for that notion."