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‘Needle phobia’ jeopardizes containing flu

Dave Wallis / Forum News Service Amanda Hofland has had traumatic experiences with injections and now avoids medical needles whenever possible.

FARGO — Amanda Hofland hates needles.

While most adults don’t enjoy injections or blood draws, the 28-year-old Fargo resident discovered at a young age her aversion to needles was more than ordinary squeamishness.

“My first experience, I remember, was in the sixth grade when I got the Hepatitis C shot,” Hofland said. “I hadn’t even gotten the shot yet. As I was walking down the hall to get it, my eyes started going dark and I just got kind of dizzy and I hyperventilated and collapsed out of fear.”

According to Dr. Clifford Mauriello, infectious disease pediatrician at Sanford Health in Fargo, reactions to needles such as fainting or excessive fear are symptomatic of needle phobia.

“(Humans) learned to run away from animals with sharp claws and sharp teeth,” Mauriello said. “So, it’s not a shot thing, it’s a sharp object thing.”

Even with the peak of flu season approaching, Hofland said her fear of needles will keep her from getting vaccinated.

Desi Fleming, director of nurses at Fargo Cass Public Health, says needle phobia jeopardizes what she calls “herd immunity.”

Herd immunity, or containing the spread of an infectious disease within a community, is hindered when a significant portion of the community is unvaccinated.

“When your vaccine rates start declining, you don’t have that natural immunity in your community. It can cause outbreaks of communal disease like H1N1,” Fleming said.

For those who fear needles, public health and a number of local pharmacies offer a flu mist.

The mist, a vaccine administered through a nasal spray, is just as effective as the shot and is available for most adults and children older than 2.

But not every procedure offers an alternative to needles.

Rob Miller, senior donor recruitment representative at United Blood Services, said that even though 80 percent of the population will at some time need emergency blood, only 5 percent donate.

“When they’re scared of needles, then they’re not going to want to donate blood to save a life,” Miller said.

For procedures that don’t offer a poke-free method, Mauriello suggests patients request a Buzzy.

A vibrating, bee-shaped ice pack, Buzzy is moved up and down the arm, creating a numbing sensation. Buzzy can be requested at most hospitals and clinics and is effective for both injections and drawing blood.

If Buzzy is not available, Mauriello suggests deep breaths to calm nerves and distract from the actual injection.

Hofland, who normally opts out of vaccines and blood drives, had similar advice for when needles can’t be avoided.

“Deep breaths help,” Hofland said. “If I feel myself starting to feel a little faint again, after sixth grade, I’ll tell them I just need a moment; I’ll lie back and fan myself. That usually helps.”

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