Mental health symptoms and inflammatory markers among HIV infected patients in Tanzania

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Background: HIV and mental disorders are predicted to be the leading causes of illness worldwide by the year 2030. HIV-infected patients are at increased risk of developing mental disorders which are significantly associated with negative clinical outcomes and propagation of new HIV infections. There is little evidence that links inflammation to development of mental disorders among HIV patients. Therefore, the main objective of this study was to evaluate if mental health symptoms were associated with biomarkers of inflammation in HIV infected subjects. Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in Dar es Salam, Tanzania from March to May 2018. Standardized tools were used to collect data based on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) stepwise approach for non-communicable diseases (NCD) surveillance. A total of 407 HIV+ patients on antiretroviral therapy were recruited. The WHO stepwise approach for NCD surveillance was used to collect data together with anthropometric measurements. Mental health symptoms were determined based on self-reported thoughts of helplessness, suicide ideation, depression, despair, discouragement, and feelings of isolation. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to test for inflammatory markers:- C-reactive protein (CRP), Iinterleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-18 (IL-18), soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor-I (sTNFR-I), and soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor-II (sTNFR-II). Bivariate and multi-variate analysis was conducted to examine the association between biomarkers and mental health symptoms. Results: The prevalence of self-reported mental health symptoms was 42% (n = 169). Participants with self-reported symptoms of mental health had elevated CRP, were less likely to walk or use a bicycle for at least 10 minutes, were less likely to participate in moderate-intensity sports or fitness activities, and had poor adherence to HIV treatment (p < 0.005). CRP remained significant in the sex adjusted, age-sex adjusted, and age-sex-moderate exercise adjusted models. In the fully adjusted logistic regression model, self-reported mental health symptoms were significantly associated with a higher quartile of elevated CRP (OR 4.4; 95% CI 1.3–5.9) and sTNFR-II (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.4–6.6) and the third quartile of IL-18 (OR 5.1;95% CI 1.5–17.5) as compared with those reporting no mental health symptoms. The significance of sTNFR-II and IL-18 in the fully adjusted model is confounded by viral load suppression rates at the sixth month. Conclusion: High CRP and sTNFR II were important contributors to the prevalence of mental health symptoms. This study is among the minimal studies that have examined mental health issues in HIV, and therefore, the findings may offer significant knowledge despite the potential reverse causality. Regardless of the nature of these associations, efforts should be directed toward screening, referral, and follow-up of HIV patients who are at-risk for mental health disorders.