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Individuals With Psychiatric Conditions More Likely To Catch Covid-19

According to a new psychiatric study, individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric condition are more likely to catch Covid-19 after being fully vaccinated. The study reviewed health records of more than 260,000 individuals from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, so the correlation was much stronger in people 65 and older. 

While the results could also be the result of decades of unknowing when it came to psychiatric conditions, individuals who have suffered from these conditions in general have weaker immune systems. 

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that chronic stress, traumatic stress, and psychiatric conditions can actually accelerate cellular aging,” Aoife O’Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and one of the study authors.

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“It’s putting you at risk for appearing older biologically, and for your immune system, in particular, to function like the immune system of someone who’s older than you, and that’s certainly seen in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

People with any psychiatric condition were found to be 3.7% more likely to develop a breakthrough infection of Covid-19. Among all the diagnoses, non-alcohol substance abuse had the greatest correlation to breakthrough cases; risk is increased by 16%. 

“Addiction causes people to increase risk-taking behaviors, and the pandemic created an environment where everything from hugging to eating at a restaurant was a risk-taking behavior,” said O’Donovan.

Adjustment disorders, or feelings of unusual stress or sadness in response to a life event, was linked to a 13% increase in risk for infection, followed by anxiety conditions (8%), bipolar disorder (7%), alcoholism (5%), depression (5%), and PTSD (3%). 

Overall, the study found that people aged 65 or older with a psychiatric diagnosis are 5% more likely to have a breakthrough Covid-19 infection. Additionally, O’Donovan explained how using data exclusively from the VA wasn’t the most ideal situation when looking at this specific correlation. 

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“Using data exclusively from the V.A. was not ideal. This group is not representative of the entire U.S. population. People who go to the V.A. are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status, have several medical conditions, and live in a rural area. They are also generally older and almost all men,” O’Donovan says. 

“However, the V.A. did a very good job of gathering all of this information and releasing it quickly. Without that kind of real-time record-keeping, she says, it would be incredibly difficult to get this much information on a recent phenomenon.”

The findings “are unlikely to be specific to Covid-19,” says O’Donovan, “but are much more likely to generalize to other infections. An obvious issue is risk for the flu and prevention of the flu.”

These findings give reason to consider mental health when crafting responses to Covid-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.

“This study adds to a body of literature that’s telling us that patients with psychiatric disorders may well be — and do appear to be — a vulnerable population in this pandemic that might need targeted prevention efforts,” says O’Donovan. “We may need to be focused on integrating Covid prevention into mental health care and also integrating mental health care into our Covid prevention strategies because the two are so interlinked.”

House Passes Bill To Help Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits

On Thursday, the House approved a bill, referred to as the “Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021,” that will expand benefits for post- 9/11 veterans that were sickened by toxins, such as from burn pits, during their military service. The final vote was 256-174, with 34 Republicans voting in addition to the entire 222 Democrats.

The passing comes two days after President Joe Biden gave an extra push for the legislation during his State of the Union speech. “I’m also calling on Congress to pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and the comprehensive health care that they deserve,” Biden said.

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According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an estimated 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits, which are used to discard waste at military camps and can cause headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, and other life-threatening, long-term symptoms.

“This year, 86% of respondents [to IAVA’s yearly member survey] reported exposure to burn pits or other toxins and 89% of those exposed reported symptoms that are or might be caused by that exposure,” IAVA stated. Among other hazardous toxins that servicemembers are exposed to include contaminated groundwater, Agent Orange — a herbicide chemical — radiation exposure, and embedded fragments.

“They came home, many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors in the world, never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” Biden said, adding that he wasn’t sure if burn pits were responsible for his late son Beau Biden’s brain cancer, which took his life in 2015.

The bill would designate 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers as being likely linked to toxic exposures related to burn pits and other hazards. It would also see nearly $300 billion spent over the next 10 years, a price that some political opponents are hesitant of.

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At a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday that featured numerous supporters like political commentator Jon Stewart and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, tribulations caused by exposure were recounted by former veteran and the American Legion’s director of health policy Katie Purswell. “I struggle to think of a single person that I deployed with who may not have been exposed, at some point, to toxins while deployed.”

“While it was our decision to raise our hands and fight our nation’s wars for those who cannot or will not, what we didn’t know was that our long-lasting health issues might not even begin to show during our time in service.”

Veterans of the Vietnam War would also benefit, making nearly 490,000 servicemembers with illnesses like hypertension and bladder cancer eligible for disability. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee noted that 2018 findings showed “sufficient evidence of an association” between hypertension and Agent Orange.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee is undergoing its own approach to the issue of toxic exposure to veterans. According to ABC News, sources familiar with the process said the House and Senate will have to figure out policy differences and take their respective bills to conference over the next few months in order to reach a final compromise.