Psychological Issues Related to Bugs and Spiders

Some children and/or adults may have a general fear of “bugs” and might think pests (e.g., cockroaches, flies, spiders) are simply creepy or a sign of unclean conditions.

arachnophobia

Stephanie L. Richards, PhD, Medical Entomologist

Some bugs, such as mosquitoes and ticks, are commonly implicated in transmitting pathogens that cause diseases that harm humans. A limited number of venomous spider species are threats to public health. Bed bugs can cause sleepless nights (“sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”), but are not known to biologically transmit pathogens that cause disease; however, their bites can itch and may be painful.

Entomophobia (Fear of Bugs)

Entomophobia is an irrational fear of one type or all types of bugs. Each individual case is different and may result from a bad experience with a particular type of insect (e.g., bee sting, fire ant stings) or may simply be a psychological issue that develops over time.

Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders and is well known in literature (e.g., nursery rhymes) and other types of media (e.g., movies).

In most cases, education is a key component to help the individual overcome their fears about certain bugs. For instance, people that are afraid of bee (apiphobia) or ant (myrmecophobia) stings should learn about the importance of bees and ants in the ecosystem. They may also learn ways to avoid bee hives and ant mounds, hence reducing their chance of encountering these insects.

Delusional Parasitosis

Some people are not just afraid of bugs, but believe their bodies are continually being infested and injured by bugs. Entomologists think that an estimated 100,000 people (most go unreported) in the United States may suffer from Ekbom Syndrome (also called delusional parasitosis), where people think they are infested with “invisible” bugs. Many of these sufferers have delusions that their bodies are under attack by bugs, and some people believe they can feel (crawling sensations, itchiness, stinging, burrowing in skin) and see (hallucinations) the bugs. In some cases, sufferers attempt to remove the bugs from the body using tweezers or other tools, sometimes causing harm to themselves. In addition, pesticides may be overused and/or used inappropriately by sufferers of this syndrome and this could be dangerous to the afflicted person and/or the surrounding environment.

People suffering from Ekbom Syndrome may consult entomologists from various sources (e.g., private companies, public agencies and/or universities). Afflicted individuals may also consult medical professionals, such as dermatologists. If a medical professional, such as a dermatologist, determines that no conditions related to skin sensations (e.g., scabies) or other irritants are present, psychological care may be sought. A physician should be consulted by sufferers to determine if medications or other types of therapeutic interventions are needed for patients experiencing these types of conditions.

 

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