The association of fear and contagious disease
When Dr. Emmanuel Okafor, Director of Public Health, Anambra Ministry of Health confirmed an outbreak of Lassa fever in the state on August 18, various Nigerian media reported that panic gripped the state residents. Panic compounds issues. A 2011 online article, ‘Can Fear be a Contagion?’ by Barbara Reynolds, PhD, Crises Communication Senior Advisor at the Center for Disease Control USA, says, ‘From a psychological point of view, panic is best used to explain a behavior that is irrational or counter to a person’s survival.’ She says fear can be contagious.
In the Foreword to the book Virus Mania by Torsten Engelbrecht and Claus Köhnlein published in 2008, Etienne De Harven, MD, retired professor of pathology and current president of Rethinking Aids, wrote, ‘Virus Mania is a social disease of our highly developed society. To cure it will require conquering fear, fear being the most deadly contagious virus, most efficiently transmitted by the media.’ This thought is relevant for Anambra residents and all Nigerians.
A 2015 online article, ‘How Worrying Affects the Body’ reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD highlights studies by the American Academy of Family Physicians, etc. which show that anxiety can actually result in development of symptoms. At the very least, fear beclouds reason, jeopardizing decisions regarding appropriate steps to take in emergencies. Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, writing about the association between fear and contagious disease says, the unguarded thought calls ‘up the fear which creates the image of disease and its consequent manifestation in the body.’ She illustrates this with the case of a man who wrongly thought he slept on a bed on which a cholera patient had died, and immediately exhibited cholera symptoms, dying as a consequence of his wrong belief.
These studies and instances show how imperative it is to guard one’s thinking when there are reports of contagious disease in a locality. Fear is contagious only if individuals do not protect their thinking. How? Starting from a spiritual premise, rather than positive thinking or blind faith, choosing thoughts based on God, whom the Bible says is entirely good, essentially having the mind of Christ, yields practical results. It enables individuals gain dominion over fearful thoughts, bringing clarity and calm to frightening health situations.
Eddy insists it is the duty of citizens to obey the law, submit to whatever process government deems important and report contagious disease to relevant authorities. She enjoins individuals to be more careful of their mental conditions and avoid “loquacious tattling about disease.” It is wise to heed this. Cultivating thought which has its basis in God is ‘spiritualised’ thinking. It includes absolute faith in, and the spiritual understanding of God as Love. It is an impervious armour against panic arising from fear of contracting a contagious disease. Medical studies are beginning to agree.
It is the duty of everyone, especially Anambra State residents, to ensure they do not jeopardize health by engaging in unsalutary practices. Getting rid of rat infestation, observing quarantines, reporting cases promptly to the authorities is essential. So too is refusing to be carried along by the wave of mass hysteria or panic that may arise from thoughts of contagion.