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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1998 Apr;32(2):180-6.

The relationship between fatigue, psychological and immunological variables in acute infectious illness.

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  • 1School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

The aim of this paper is to explore the longitudinal relationships between physical and psychological symptoms and immunological factors following acute infective illnesses.

METHOD:

Preliminary data from a prospective investigation of patients with serologically proven acute infectious illnesses due to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Ross River virus (RRV) or Q fever are reported. Patients were assessed within 4 weeks of onset of symptoms and then reviewed 2 and 4 weeks later. Physical illness data were collected at interview. Psychological and somatic symptom profiles were assessed by standardised self-report questionnaires. Cell-mediated immune (CMI) function was assessed by measurement of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin responses.

RESULTS:

Thirty patients who had been assessed and followed over the 4-week period (including 17 patients with EBV, five with RRV and eight with Q fever) were included in this analysis. During the acute phase, profound fatigue and malaise were the most common symptoms. Classical depressive and anxiety symptoms were not prominent. Initially, 46% of cases had no DTH skin response (i.e. cutaneous anergy) indicative of impaired cellular immunity. Over the 4-week period, there was a marked improvement in both somatic and psychological symptoms, although fatigue remained a prominent feature in 63% of subjects. The reduction in reported fatigue was correlated with improvement in the DTH skin response (p = 0.001) and with improvement in General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) scores (p < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS:

Acute infectious illnesses are accompanied by a range of nonspecific somatic and psychological symptoms, particularly fatigue and malaise rather than anxiety and depression. Although improvement in several symptoms occurs rapidly, fatigue commonly remains a prominent complaint at 4 weeks. Resolution of fatigue is associated with improvement in cell-mediated immunity.

PMID:
9588296
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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