香山リカのココロの万華鏡:目に見えない敵は怖い? /東京

September 07, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Fear of an invisible threat
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:目に見えない敵は怖い? /東京

For the first time in 70 years, cases of dengue fever have been confirmed originating within Japan.

There are said to be around 100 million new cases of dengue fever around the world a year, and hundreds of people are believed to bring cases of the diseases into Japan every year after catching it in tropical climates. However, the recent cases that have made the news are said to be the first instances in post-World War II Japan for people who had not traveled abroad.

People needn't be excessively worried, as dengue fever does not pass directly between people, and most who catch the disease recover from their symptoms in around a week. Mosquitos are believed to be the source of the recent infections, and workers have conducted large-scale spraying with insecticide in Yoyogi Park, where the infected mosquitoes are thought to be. Looking at the imposing footage of these workers doing their job, some people have probably conjured up images of the Ebola pandemic, and become anxious.

A big reason why we sometimes become unnecessarily scared by infectious diseases like dengue fever is because we can't see the viruses that are behind them. We can protect ourselves from traffic accidents by looking both ways before we cross the road, but when it comes to viruses and bacteria, it is not so simple. There are probably people who, no matter how much they wash their hands, worry that they still have bacteria or viruses somewhere that they missed.

There are also scam artists who take advantage of people's fear of invisible threats. "Termites are trying to eat away the foundations of your house," they may lie, proceeding to charge a heavy fee for termite extermination. There is also a continuing problem with scam artists who will tell people they are cursed by the ghosts of their ancestors, even if they cannot see them, and sell them various things to "lift the curse."

The victims of these scams may originally dismiss the scam artists' claims, but since the "threat" is invisible, they start to doubt themselves and then wonder whether even though they can't see anything, maybe the scam artists can. In the end they are tricked into paying extraordinary sums to deal with the imagined threat.

Of course, unlike with these scams, dengue fever is a real threat, so we shouldn't treat it in the same way. However, if we become neurotic, we will be scared just by going outdoors, and our health can deteriorate just by thinking we are infected. As for the media, it is important to release correct information, and I would like the media to refrain from posting lots of big pictures of mosquitos, or workers spraying insecticide in the darkness just because they are photos with "impact." Meanwhile, we should all keep in mind that an invisible threat is twice as scary just for being invisible.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2014年09月02日 地方版

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