What Is AIDS Phobia and Do I Have It?

A Paralyzing Fear of Infection or an HIV Risk That Doesn't Exist

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There are two words that can strike fear in many people: cancer and AIDS. And while those fears may be completely rational and understandable, what happens if they take control of your life? If you fear the possibility of HIV so much as to be unable to cope with everyday life, then it is possible you have an anxiety disorder that one might describe as an AIDS phobia.

AIDS phobia is loosely defined as the irrational fear of getting infected with HIV, or the fear you have already been infected despite evidence to the contrary.

it's condition that may be easy to dismiss or denigrate, but one that a person rarely "gets over" without  some sort of focused intervention.

What Is an AIDS Phobia?

The Webster Dictionary defines a phobia as an "irrational or obsessive fear or anxiety, usually regarding something particular." It is a fear that can often take control of a person's life, the fact of which the person may fully realize but feel unable to control.

People with AIDS phobia can often be so convinced they are infected that all the negative tests in the world won't ease their fear. They will spend enormous amounts of time on the internet looking for evidence that their fears are founded, oftentimes in anecdotal or outdated news item or websites offering quack medical advice.

There are others in the meantime who will do absolutely anything to avoid getting infected. However, when accompanied by this irrational, debilitating fear, their prevention methods or doubts can seem observed.

They may fear that stains on a piece of clothing are evidence of dried blood with the potential to infect. They may devise seemingly ludicrous ways to avoid HIV during sex, falling prey to products, medications or devices that are not only silly but completely useless.

What Is the Cause of an AIDS Phobia?

The reasons why people develop phobias like this are  not clearly understood.

Some experts believe that the cause may be genetics, a propensity to develop phobias as part of your genetic make-up.

Psychologists tend to believe that phobias are a result of events and experiences in a person's life, which may or may not be specific. A fear of the water, for example, may result from knowing someone who drowned. Likewise, someone may develop an AIDS phobia if they know others who has gotten extremely ill or has died as a result of the disease.

Another factor that can precipitate AIDS phobia is guilt from an act the person perceives as being wrong. Typically these are sexual encounters the person regrets, such as a married man who has sex with a prostitute, commits adultery or has his first sexual encounter with another man. These circumstances carry the risk of HIV infection, as well as the risk of having to explain to others how the infection took place.

In their mind, HIV infection may be a natural result of a wrongful act. They may feel that HIV is a "punishment" for the "crime" they committed, and that the guilt they have to bear is both reasonable and deserved.

Culture often plays a big role in this. A person's beliefs, cultural surroundings, and religion can add to the undercurrent of fear in individuals who are either taught or told that certain sexual acts are wrong and immoral.

Treating AIDS Phobia

As irrational and consuming as AIDS phobias can be, they can be treated if the person seeks appropriate care. While it may help to have a counselor or doctor lay out the traditional prevention guidelines and science, it is often more important to explore the root causes for the fears, some of which may or may not be associated with HIV at all.

If you or a loved one has an AIDS phobia, speak with a health professional or community-based AIDS organization for specialist referrals in your area, ideally mental health specialist experienced and well versed in HIV.

Alternately, you may be able to access a local support group either through your community HIV center or a 24-hour AIDS hotline available in most states.

Sources:

Wirth, H. "Family Dynamics and AIDS Phobia: A Case Study." Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. July 2003; 5(3).

R, Miller. "Legacy denied: African American gay men, AIDS, and the black church." Social Work. July 2006; 52(1):51-56.

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