Fear Factors

Things that scare us

What scares you? According to a comprehensive study conducted in 2014 by Chapman University in California, there is a one-in-four chance that speaking in public is at the top of the list. But bugs, snakes and critters are right behind that.

Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat, a built-in survival instinct. For example, many people surprised by a spider may experience a jolt of mild anxiety. Fears become phobias when the anxiety to the trigger is so strong that the sufferer’s quality of life and his or her ability to function is impaired. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 10 percent of people in the United States suffer from phobias. Phobias are the most common mental disorder in the United States, falling into the category of anxiety disorders.

On the following list of fears and phobias, we asked for local insight from John Jackson, an entomologist and founder of Medford-based Bugs-R-Us Educational Services, a provider of information and presentations on insects. Karen Bassett of Southern Oregon Pediatrics, a registered nurse with 22 years of experience, offered treatment advice.

ARACHNOPHOBIA: The fear of spiders and other arachnids, such as scorpions.


FACTS: Despite Hollywood’s imagination, no spider will attack a human naturally, says Jackson. In Oregon, only black widow and hobo spiders are of concern, because their venom is necrotic, meaning flesh-eating. Bitten areas can turn black and surrounding flesh can fall off. The red hourglass on the abdomen characterizes black widows, but Oregon also has brown and purple widow spiders, Jackson says, which are comparatively smaller and less venomous. All produce webbing of high tensile strength, like a guitar string, and might be found in dark, concealed spaces, such as under the sink or within a lumber pile. Hobo spiders are reclusive and nocturnal and may hide under furniture or behind couches. Stores sell glue traps that emit a pheromone to lure and catch hobo spiders. Southern Oregon backyards can also be homes for wood and bark scorpions. They tend to be two or two-and-a-half inches long and reside under rocks and in the woods. Their venom is also necrotic.

TREATMENT: All insect bites and stings are generally treated the same way, according to Bassett. A spider bite may have two distinct puncture marks and may swell and bruise. Wash the bite with soap and water. Use a cool compress for pain and take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, for itching. The reaction may last for 48 hours, but if the site is not improving or worsening after that time, Bassett recommends seeking medical attention. Try to retain the spider for identification if possibly poisonous. As with all bites or stings, seek emergency medical attention if experiencing difficulty breathing or weakness.

ACAROPHOBIA: The fear of skin infestation from small crawling insects, including ticks.


FACTS: Ticks reside amid tall grasses and trees in the woods. They may be no bigger than a freckle before they embed, feed on blood, and subsequently swell. Light clothing makes hitchhiking ticks more visible, and tighter-fitting clothes are tougher for ticks to penetrate. Bug sprays like Off! Deep Woods can help repel ticks. Jackson says that ticks in Southern Oregon can carry Lyme disease or anaplasmosis, a disease involving bacterial infection of the white blood cells.

TREATMENT: Use fine tweezers to pull the tick out by the head — not the body, which can break off. “They’re amazingly hard to kill, so unless you actually pop the body, it’s going to continue to live,” Jackson says, suggesting a purposeful smoosh after extracting. Bassett says that if any black parts of the tick remain under the skin, visit your doctor. If successfully removed, wash the affected area with soap. Use an antibiotic cream and take an oral antihistamine. Bassett says to watch the site for signs of infection, such as redness or drainage. Lyme disease is a risk with tick bites. The symptoms can appear weeks later, including general achiness and a distinctive bulls-eye rash. If symptomatic, seek medical advice.

APIPHOBIA: The fear of bees

Stinging insects

FACTS: Bees, wasps and hornets all wield non-necrotic but still painful stingers. Bees can sting only once and die after implanting their stinger; wasps and hornets can sting multiple times each. Like spiders, these insects won’t attack directly, but will defend themselves if provoked. Killing a wasp or hornet (but not bees) will release pheromones that prompt others to attack. Instead of aggressive flailing at a swarm, move away from the area. And if they’re not a threat, let them be, Jackson says, because “they are here to do a job, and it is such an important job.”

TREATMENT: Get the stinger out as soon as possible, but don’t pull out a bee stinger with tweezers, as that will squeeze in more venom, Jackson says. Instead, scrape the stinger off with the edge of a credit card. Bassett recommends the soap, antihistamine and cold compress regime, as with other insect bites. The bite may remain swollen or red for up to 48 hours. However, because a small percentage of the population (about one in 1,000) have venom allergies, any reaction to a sting that causes breathing trouble, numbing, hives or vomiting requires immediate emergency attention.

OPHIDIOPHOBIA: The fear of snakes


FACTS: The western diamondback rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in Oregon, Jackson says. Snakes prefer cover when hiding or sleeping, but during a hot day, they’ll be out sunning themselves. The diamondback has a triangular head and dark, diagonal lines on each side of its head. They’re here to help us out by eating mice and rats, Jackson says, but if they sense movement or noise, they’ll investigate. Snakes tend to have a hard time seeing and hearing, but their tongues can detect smells and other sensory information. Jackson recommends standing still or slowly backing away from any dangerous snakes.

TREATMENT: If bitten by a rattlesnake, don’t panic. That may be easier said than done, but Jackson says the venom will run more quickly through your system if you’re panicked. The venom will be painful and can cause swelling and bruising. Stay still and immobilize the bitten appendage as much as possible, keeping the arm or leg below the level of the heart to slow the spread of venom. Call for emergency help. Hospitals can administer anti-venom. If hiking or camping in a remote area, consider carrying a snake-bite kit, sold at many sporting goods stores. The kit will not replace the need to transport the victim to a source of medical assistance.

PEDICULOPHOBIA: The fear of lice


FACTS: The least worrisome, but perhaps most icky on this list, lice don’t carry disease and don’t make you sick, Bassett points out. However, there can be an associated social stigma and a lot of labor involved in removing the pests. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6 million to 12 million children ages 3 to 11 years old get a head lice infestation each year. The head louse is a parasite specific to humans. You won’t catch them from your dog, but you might get them from your preschooler. They are spread by contact and shared brushes, combs, hats and clothing. Symptoms include itching or a tickling sensation on the scalp, often at the back of the neck and behind the ears. The pesky parasites are showing resistance to treatments, so it may take multiple applications and thorough housekeeping to be finally done with the varmints. “Head lice are very common, particularly around back-to-school time,” Bassett says.

TREATMENT: Bassett recommends purchasing an over-the-counter head lice treatment such as Nix or Rid. Follow all instructions, which include shampooing with a medicated product and patiently combing through hair to remove nits (tiny, pearly eggs). Because of the resistance issue, Bassett recommends leaving the shampoo on for 20 minutes. Flush nits down the sink or toilet to prevent any hatching. Thoroughly launder bedding, towels and clothes. Anything that can’t go through the washer but will fit in the dryer (pillows, stuffed animals) should spend 20 minutes on a hot cycle to kill the lice. Alternatively, put all comforters, soft toys and bedding in plastic trash bags. Tie tightly and leave for two weeks to kill lice. Vacuum carpets and furnishings, being sure to empty liners or clean canisters so no new nits will hatch. Spray hard surfaces with a bleach cleaner. After a week, the person should retreat in case any nits were missed and have now hatched. Bassett says she has heard of various home remedies, including mayonnaise, coconut oil and tea tree oil, but believes that if battling the bugs, the medicated approach has the best chance of desired results.

MYSOPHOBIA: The fear of germs


FACTS: Hearing helpful updates that a computer keyboard can contain five times more germs than a public toilet or that 50 percent of TV remotes test positive for cold viruses is enough to turn anyone into a germaphobe. Oh, and the kitchen sink may host 100,000 more germs than a bathroom! Germs are microorganisms that harm humans, including bacteria, viruses and mold. Though they can be airborne, germs are commonly transferred by touch, with another person or an infected surface. Germs can survive for varying lengths of time on a surface, such as a door handle. Rhinovirus, responsible for about 50 percent of colds, can live for 24 hours or more on a surface, for example. Hepatitis C virus can remain infectious on a surface for up to six weeks.

TREATMENT: The best prevention for bad germs is good handwashing protocols, especially with children, Bassett says. At every restroom break and before meals, use soap and water while singing the “Happy Birthday” song through twice. If you’re sick, wash more often to prevent spreading the contagion, particularly after a sneezing or coughing bout. Plain soap is fine, Bassett says, rather than antibacterial varieties. If no water is available, an antibacterial gel of at least 60 percent alcohol is a better-than-nothing alternative. Most people can reduce their risk of infection by following these simple procedures, but newborns and people with compromised immune systems may need to be more isolated or protected.

TRYPANOPHOBIA: One of many names associated with the fear of needles


FACTS: Needles are no fun. About 20 percent of people admitted to a fear of needles in the 2014 study done by Chapman University. In medicine, needles are used for immunizations, blood tests, injectable medications and glucose monitoring. Many of these tests and treatments can’t or shouldn’t be avoided. Though some people are born with a hypersensitivity to pain, most people develop a fear of needles from a negative experience, often in childhood between the ages of 4 and 6. Sufferers will feel high anxiety around needles and blood, and may even faint.

TREATMENT: The approach will depend on the individual patient, factoring in age and level of anxiety, Bassett says. Offering reassurance and some degree of control to the patient is often sufficient in her practice. She will offer a child choices, such as sitting on the table or in mom’s lap, counting to three or singing a song. Distraction can also be helpful, such as music, reading or deep breathing. Pediatric clinics may have devices that help, too. Bassett uses one that provides acupressure at the injection site. Another type uses vibration. Parental praise and support are important, too.

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