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High Anxiety: AIDS Anxiety in the Worried-Wells and Worried-Sicks, Part One

By Bob Frascino, M.D.

September 3, 2010

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So why do some folks develop irrational fears such as AIDS phobia while most folks just experience routine normal fear? Good question! No one is quite sure; however, researchers in this field point to four factors that increase the likelihood that a phobia will develop:

  1. Life experience: Many phobias can be linked back to real-life events that may or may not be consciously remembered. My dad, for example, has a bird phobia. He was attacked and bitten by a chicken as a toddler. AIDS phobia may develop in folks who know people who are HIV infected or who have died of AIDS.
  2. Cultural factors: Certainly religion and cultural surroundings and taboos can feed AIDS phobia. Stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS continue to be prevalent. AIDS phobia folks may fear being treated the way they see HIVers being treated. That HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay men and intravenous drug users contributes to this problem.
  3. Genetics: As with so many other illnesses, genetics may play a role. The tendency to develop a phobia may be part of your genetic makeup. There are case reports of twins raised separately in geographically distant locations developing the same phobias. However, genetics is not the sole answer, as there are folks with severe phobias who have no relatives with the same or similar condition.
  4. Resilience, adaptability and coping skills

It's worth noting that irrational fears can have devastating consequences. The billionaire Howard Hughes developed an extreme obsessive disorder and illness phobia eventually forcing him to become a recluse. He was so afraid of getting ill that he refused contact with most people. He even refused to see doctors. When he became seriously ill, a physician was not allowed to tend to him until Hughes was unconscious and in critical condition. By then it was too late. Simple medical attention earlier could have saved his life. In essence his fear of death (thanatophobia) killed him.

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See Also
High Anxiety: AIDS Anxiety in the Worried-Wells and Worried-Sicks, Part Two
Guide to Conquering the Fear, Shame and Anxiety of HIV
Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives
More on Coping With Stress and Anxiety


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Life, Love, Sex, HIV and Other Unscheduled Events

Bob Frascino, M.D., was President and Founder of The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. He had been an outspoken, popular expert in's "Ask the Experts" forums on safe sex and fatigue/anemia since 2000. Once a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Frascino served as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Immunology, Rheumatology, and Allergy, at Stanford University Medical Center from 1983 until 2001. He was a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and had also been a distinguished member of the executive boards of numerous state and regional associations.

We're inexpressibly saddened to share the news that Dr. Frascino passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Click here to read more and to share your thoughts.

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