AIDS awareness programmes, though the need of the hour to keep the deadly virus in check, are also having the unintended effect of creating panic among some participants, who have since started rushing to HIV testing clinics over the faintest of doubts.
One among them is a junior college student who developed a phobia of contracting AIDS after attending an awareness programme at college.
Soon after, he stole Rs3,000 from his mother to get himself tested, as he suspected that his barber had used an unclean shaving razor on him.
After three months, he stole another Rs3,000 for a test, this time to check if any traces of the virus could be found after the window period was over.
Despite both the test showing negative, he remains convinced that he is HIV+.
A curiouser case is that of an HIV counsellor, who, while urging people to take AIDS seriously, ended up fearing the virus so much that he has had himself tested 40 times this year.
Sameer (name changed on request) realised that he suffers from what is known as AIDS phobia, which he became aware of after attending a seminar by Dr Nilesh Shah, head of department of Sion hospital, who spoke of this fear which is a psychological morbidity associated with AIDS.
“He didn’t know about the disorder. He told me that despite being certain that he had not contracted the HIV virus, he felt the compulsion to get himself tested. If his stomach was hurting, he would rush to take a test,” said Dr Shah.
Dr Shah says he gets about a patient every month with this problem. “It is like any other phobia which starts with anxiety, and gradually leads to a preoccupation or obsession about the disease. In later stages, the patient develops hypochondria (fear of having illness), and finally, delusion,” said Dr Shah.
Understandably, people who have had unprotected sex in the past are more likely to develop this phobia. “A patient recently came to me after marriage. He feared that he had infected his wife,” said Dr Kersi Chavda, consulting psychiatrist from Hinduja hospital.
“In many cases, people read about symptoms like rash, and start imagining they have AIDS when they get one,” she added.
Dr Chavda said some patients get so upset that they become depressed, necessitating therapy along with medication.
Sometimes, patients develop this fear when they touch blood.
Dr Shubangi Parkar, the head of psychiatry department, KEM hospital, said, “I counselled a patient recently who would dress her father’s wounds and felt she had contracted HIV. The incidence of this preoccupation is a lot higher in neurotic people.”