Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya, have shown that a screening tool developed at Washington University can help predict in about 5 minutes whether young people are at high risk for schizophrenia and may go on to develop the illness.
The findings are published in the March issue of the journal Schizophrenia Research.
Schizophrenia is characterized by alterations in thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which may include psychosis, a loss of contact with reality. Between 75% and 90% of those who develop schizophrenia go through an initial period of a few months to a few years in which they have some symptoms suggesting they may be at high risk, but only 15% to 30% of individuals with such symptoms actually go on to develop the disorder.
“When we first see young patients who may have experienced a psychotic episode, we don’t know whether their problems are transitory or whether they may be on a path to more serious issues,” said Daniel Mamah, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and the study’s first author. “This screening tool can help identify those at the highest risk of converting to schizophrenia and may allow us to begin treatment earlier, or perhaps even prevent some of the most serious problems associated with schizophrenia.”
In this study of 825 young people in Kenya, the researchers compared the screening tool — called the Washington Early Recognition Center Affectivity and Psychosis (WERCAP) Screen — to an older screening test for psychosis and schizophrenia. The WERCAP, a 16-question, self-report questionnaire, was compared to the Structured Interview for Psychosis-Risk Syndromes (SIPS), which is a much longer and more involved screening interview.