Salmonella Scare: Treating Emetophobia

Recently, salmonella outbreaks have been instilling fear in the hearts of US citizens. As recently as February, 2007, salmonella has been showing up in all sorts of foods—more than simply eggs and chicken. Peter Pan peanut butter, tomatoes, Cadbury Schweppes Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate, “Wild Kitty” Cat Food, Basil from the Majestic International Spice Corporation of Montebello in California, orange juice by Orchid Island Juice Company, soft cheese, raw milk, and almonds all have been found to contain traces of this deadly bacteria. Salmonella is no longer confined to raw foods such as eggs; it’s able to grow in many untreated foods, and outbreaks are still very dangerous.

Salmonella causes much vomiting—thus, people with emetophobia (a fear of vomiting) have a terrible time dealing with the salmonella bacteria. Because emetophobia is a very irrational fear of vomiting, those with the disorder will go to very extreme lengths in order to avoid vomiting, and some may also fear others vomiting, so it is difficult also for the emetophobic to deal with family members or friends who may have become sick with the salmonella of 2007.

Emetophobics will tend to exhibit very distinct symptoms—they have an extreme aversion to careers such as nursing that may involve seeing people vomiting; they fear being near children, babies, and people who are ill, because these three groups of people are the most likely to vomit at a sudden point in time (in fact, some emetophobics are not even able to interact properly with their own newborns or young children because they are afraid that the child will throw up); they will avoid social activities, because it’s possible that during social activities and parties, others will get drunk and, consequently vomit. Emetophobics often exhibit signs of “travel sickness”, a fear of traveling, especially to foreign countries where unfamiliar food may cause the emetophobic to vomit unexpectedly.

In general, the cause of emetophobia has been traced back to possible vomiting experiences in childhood times that were particularly traumatizing or horrifying, and so the emetophobic tries very hard to avoid this experience in the future. In addition, if the part punishes the child after the child vomits, it is far more likely for the child to eventually develop emetophobia than for the usual population. Sometimes, emetophobics fear vomiting because of the lack of control that being sick offers them—thus, in order to remain in control, emetophobics will try to avoid vomiting again, and this just perpetuates the cycle of emetophobia.

There are many different kinds of treatment for emetophobia, though there is no “best way”, nor is one method guaranteed to work all the time. Sometimes, the person with the phobia is desensitized to vomiting, shown pictures of people vomiting, vomit, and with sounds to go with it, in order to make the patient get used to vomiting. The images shown then become more and more extreme, as a result causing the emetophobic to become more and more afraid and anxious, but also desensitizing them to vomiting in general. Though this treatment doesn’t always work, it is fairly useful, and may help when emetophobics are facing crises such as the salmonella breakout of 2007.