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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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Read Part Two of this blog entry, posted on Sept. 23, 2010.

Fear of an Epidemic Resulting in an Epidemic of Fear: The Worried-Wells

Imagine being so frightened of contracting an illness that you begin believing God is sending you bad omens in the form of bird poop ...

SIGNS FROM HEAVEN (BIRD TURDS AS HIV SIGN FROM HEAVEN, 2009)
Nov 11, 2009

or via commercials and advertisements ...

C'mon Bob..No more BUSHIT!!!
Mar 22, 2006

or on license plates ...

hiv 2 research
Jun 13, 2006

There are many terms for this type of irrational worrying -- AIDS phobia, AIDS panic, AIDS hysteria, AIDS anxiety, etc. The condition is comprised of three major components:

  1. Irrational fear of having acquired HIV
  2. Incorrect but strongly held beliefs as to how HIV is transmitted
  3. Bizarre attempts to avoid contracting the illness

Some American psychiatrists have suggested the acronym FRAIDS (fear of AIDS) to describe this burgeoning psychological problem among the HIV-negative worried-wells. The Body's expert forum on HIV prevention and safer sex recently began collecting some of the more extreme worried-well stories in a chapter entitled "I'm Positive I'm Positive," which can be easily accessed in the archives. Representative samples of worried wells from this chapter include:

swollen gums
Aug 17, 2010

Alqaeda brave next month
Feb 25, 2010

There are many other examples in the archives and the published medical literature, including (1) a postal worker in New York who refused to deliver mail to a public health clinic caring for HIV/AIDS patients, because he feared acquiring the disease from their letters and (2) a dude in the UK who routinely immersed his Mr. Happy and his feet in undiluted bleach after every trip to a public toilet! Public-toilet fears are quite common among FRAIDS sufferers. Here's just one of many examples, again from the archives:

Thanking You!
Nov 10, 2009

Certainly some of these irrational fears might be chalked up to ignorance. One research study of university students found 24% thought HIV could be acquired from toilet seats; 14% were convinced they could contract HIV from trying on clothes in a store; and 10% believed money handled by an HIVer was contagious! However, AIDS phobia goes well beyond routine fear associated with misinformation or myth.

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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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Bob Frascino, M.D., was President and Founder of The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. He had been an outspoken, popular expert in TheBody.com'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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