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Fear of Disease

Fear is both a problem and an opportunity in disease control. Public hysteria can make rational disease control measures impossible. Yet without some level of fear, it is impossible to keep the public and their elected representatives interested in disease control. During the polio epidemics of the 1930s and 1940s, people cancelled group meetings of all kinds, threw away food because a fly had lighted on it, and defied school attendance laws. The advent of Salk's vaccine brought

the polio epidemics and the associated hysteria to an end. Less than 30 years later, it is difficult to maintain proper levels of immunization against measles because parents believe the disease is eradicated and do not have their children immunized.

The double-edged nature of fear has stymied effective HIV control stratagems. The efforts to downplay the risk of HIV to heterosexuals slowed the flow of research dollars at the beginning of the epidemic. The general community's lack of fear of HIV allowed the bathhouses to remain open despite clear evidence of their role in the spread of HIV. Irrational fears that HIV may be spread through casual contact have resulted in discrimination against HIV carriers, but efforts to control these fears have encouraged employers and others to ignore the real problems of HIV-induced dementia and secondary infections.


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