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Specific phobia case studies

Specific phobia (illness phobia of HIV/Aids)

Michael was a 23-year-old final-year student nurse who lived at home with his parents. He developed a terrifying fear of ‘catching HIV’ and dying of Aids. He had intrusive unwanted thoughts and images when at work, that somehow the virus had entered his skin (although there were no cuts and he took appropriate precautions). He stated that when exposed to bloodrelated stimuli he felt very anxious, and his conviction in this belief that he was infected was 75 per cent, but afterwards he only believed it 15 per cent.

On occasions he has panicked and left the ward he was working on until his panic subdued, informing colleagues that he had a problem with asthma and nausea. His fears were worse at work, when giving blood, and in public toilets. He worried excessively about all physical feelings, which he believed were signs and symptoms of HIV/Aids. Because of his fears he constantly checked his whole body for any possible signs, read extensively about HIV/Aids and wore two or three pairs of protective gloves. He avoided all public toilets, thinking about his fears, and had begun to take time off work repeatedly. As a consequence of his time absent from work he was asked to an occupational health review but was considering leaving his training course.

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