Family is afraid of Spouse's HIV + status
Jul 7, 2006
Hi Dr. Bob,
My husband is HIV +. We have a daughter who is negative and I am negative. However, my mother (who has OCD) and is somewhat neurotic and sister who is also neurotic, are afraid to be around him! That is not say they won't be around him at all you can just tell they are uncomfortable being around him. Both have said they realize this fear of HIV is irrational and recognize it cannot be transmitted through casual contact, however still have these fears. This summer we are all supposed to go to my family's summer home, however my sister has expressed concerns about being there with her children while my husband is there. She said she is "afraid of the unknown" like what if one of her kids has an accident or my husband does and is bleeding. I have tried to assure her again and again that it is not spread through casual contact. My spouse's feelings are hurt and he feels ostracized by my family as my sister even feels uncomfortable with my husband being around her three small children who as she pointed out will "get into anything" and she is afraid that they could drink out of his cup or try and grab his razor or toothbrush-which I assured her he would keep separate from the everyone else's so no one feels uncomfortable. I would love to see my family and don't want to not go on vacation with them but it appears that it will make my sister and mother very uncomfortable. Sorry for rambling on, I guess what my question is should I try to continue to argue my points on how their fears are irrational or just at least in this case, back down and not go on vacation to the summer home with my husband? Also, if you have any words of wisdom that I could pass onto my family on how this really is -in my humble opinion- ridiculous it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance, Sad spouse
Response from Dr. Frascino
Your situation is not unique; in fact, quite the contrary. Misinformation, irrational fears and stigmatization have been an integral part of this illness since it was first described over a quarter of a century ago. That such unjustified fears remain so prominent and prevalent is another sad testament of the inadequate job we as a nation have done in raising HIV/AIDS awareness and dispelling AIDS myths and fears.
Certainly your mother and sister are being unreasonable and remarkably insensitive to you and your husband.
One option to consider would be arranging a meeting of your mother, your sister, you and your husband's HIV specialist. Have your mother and sister draw up a list of specific questions and concerns and present them to the HIV specialist. He can then address each concern directly. I have used this approach in families in which anxiety and fear have clouded rational judgment and common sense. Hopefully the HIV physician expert will be able to enlighten your relatives.
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