In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Hydrophobophobia.
Fear of rabies is called Hydrophobophobia. Rabies is disease, transmitted from animals to humans when they bite. Dogs are one of the most common animals that spread Rabies, others are cats, fox bats etc.
Rabies is caused by a virus which affects one’s health. It can result in one getting paralyzed, going into a coma and eventually dying. It is a very serious disease. Normally, people are afraid of getting it because of the harmful effects it has on health. They prefer not to come in touch with animals that are carriers.
However, they don’t make painstaking efforts to avoid rabies and or animals that cause it. In Hydrophobophobia, sufferers will do whatever it takes them to avoid their fear stimuli. They will put at stake their social and occupational functioning.
For example, they will avoid going to the zoo or stepping out of the house inorder to avoid getting exposed to animals that cause rabies.
They will skip school or the office because they’ll fear they might get rabies on their way. One will avoid meeting people also because they are afraid one may have it.
All these acts of avoidance are repetitive and thus, can turn into compulsions over time. Someone suffering from Hydrophobophobia is very likely to develop OCD and depression in the future.
A sufferer can also develop other phobias which might include Zoophobia (fear of all animals), Cynophobia (fear of dogs), Gatophobia (fear of cats) and or Chiroptophobia (fear of bats).
Hydrophobophobia is a part of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V, which comes under the category of specific phobias. This is why one experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimulus, rabies. A sufferer will get anxious also at the mere thought of getting it.
This anxiety is what leads to one avoiding the situation or thing they fear. At times, when their fear stimulus becomes unavoidable, one suffers from extremely high levels of anxiety which can turn into full-blown panic attacks.
Hydrophobophobia is an irrational fear of rabies. It is a specific phobia which is related to other phobias such as Cynophobia (fear of dogs) and or Lyssophobia (fear of going insane or getting rabies).
Symptoms of Hydrophobophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, have anxiety as their pivotal symptom. Therefore, someone suffering from Hydrophobophobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli, rabies.
Hydrophobophobia is not wholly irrational because of the fact that rabies is a very dangerous disease which can cause death. Most of the people who suffer from it die in the end because of lung failure. If not, they spend the rest of their life either para;yzed and or in a coma. Therefore, to fear getting this disease is justified and valid.
However, in Hydrophobophobia the excess anxiety and other physiological symptoms goes through are not valid. This is because a sufferer is unable to rationalise his fear, which is out of touch with reality. Unlike in this phobia, people normally don’t get panic attacks by just thinking about rabies.
Avoidance as mentioned earlier is repetitive. These recurrent actions maintain one’s fear by producing feelings of security, which makes one believe that rabies is to be feared. Therefore, their fear intensifies over time and phobia worsens.
According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with Hydrophobophobia, one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and at least 3-5 symptoms (from the list mentioned below).
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to animals that might transmit rabies
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about getting rabies
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding animals that might cause rabies
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Feeling depressed
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of mouth
Causes of Hydrophobophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real/definite cause. They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors.
According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition. Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders has a higher chance of developing Hydrophobophobia. This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him.
An imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels of the brain can also be one of the many reasons as to why one develops Hydrophobophobia. These alterations are low dopamine levels and high serotonin levels.
This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship. This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Hydrophobophobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event.
For example, someone whose parents or family members had rabies can develop this phobia. This is because they have seen the misery one goes through when suffering from this disease, which causes death in the end.
By listening to someone else’s story of getting rabies or watching documentaries or TV shows on it can also induce this phobia.
Aslo, someone who has a fear of death (Thanatophobia) is very likely to be fearful of rabies because it causes death.
Hydrophobophobia can also be a learned behavior. One learns to be afraid of rabies by looking at their parents behaviour towards it.
Therefore, Hydrophobophobia has no real cause. It is developed by both genetics and other factors.
Treatment of Hydrophobophobia
Hydrophobophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Hydrophobophobia is treated by a number of different methods: Psychological treatment and Biological treatment.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Hydrophobophobia is defined as the irrational fear of rabies. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks. People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear. In the case of Hydrophobophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of rabies. They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Hydrophobophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of animal specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i.Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii.Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii.The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Hydrophobophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear stimuli.
- Biological Treatment
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Hydrophobophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Hydrophobophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Dogs, Snakes, Rodents, Bees, Spiders, and More
by Martin M. Antony and Randi E. McCabe
- Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias
by Jerilyn Ross and Rosalynn Carter
- The A-Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties (Facts on File Library of Health & Living)
by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.
- Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective
by Aaron Beck, Gary Emery, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What does rabies do to humans?
It spreads through nerve cells in the brain and can cause paralysis, coma and death.
Q2) What do you mean by rabies?
It is an acute viral disease, caused by the bite of animals that contain the virus.
Q3) Can a person survive rabies?
Very few have been able to survive, but usually if one gets it, the end result is death.
Q4) What causes rabies?
It is caused by a rabies infection, which is found in the saliva of certain animals. When they bite a human, the virus is transmitted from the animal to the human.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.