Fear Of Bacteria

In the seventeenth century, a Dutch microbiologist looked through his microscope and noted the presence of something he deemed “animalcules” – he had discovered bacteria. Of course, these unicellular microorganisms have always been a part of our world. Bacteria can be good, neutral…or very bad. When it is dangerous, bacteria is referred to as a pathogen, and it can be scary indeed. For this reason, some people develop a potent fear of bacteria. This phobia is known by the Latin term, Bacteriophobia.

Deadly Bacteria Triggers This Phobia

The type of bacteria that will make you violently ill and possibly kill you is known as pathogenic bacteria. When these pathogens run rampant, they can cause epidemics and mass suffering. For some who work in the medical field, bacteria is a constant worry. Scientists and health care professionals know first-hand how dangerous certain pathogens can be. They may be likely to develop some degree of bacteriophobia, and they will likely take great care to protect themselves via handwashing, gloves, and masks.

There are many forms of pathogenic bacteria, and some of them are quite well known. For example, bacteria such as salmonella causes frequent outbreaks of severe food poisoning. Salmonella is one of the key triggers for bacteriophobia. People who fear bacteria will often avoid eating certain foods that they do not prepare themselves. They will be careful to cook meats thoroughly to reduce risk. Sometimes, salmonella can lurk in even the most harmless-looking foods, such as lettuce or tomatoes. Because it is impossible for someone to see without a microscope, there is always a possibility that food is covered in dangerous germs.

These bacteria can be transmitted in a variety of ways, and they also travel from animals to human beings. When a person is exposed to Salmonella bacteria, they will suffer from symptoms such as fever, cramps and intestinal distress. In the U.S., there are 30,000 reported cases of salmonella poisoning each year.

Other Scary Pathogens

Tuberculosis, or TB, is one of the most frightening diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria. Mycobacteria causes this deadly disease, which infects the lungs, causing bloody sputum. TB can also attack other organs, as well as the central nervous system. Tuberculosis is an extremely contagious disease, and each cough from an infected person can release airborne pathogens that travel to another body.

In the past, TB was known as consumption. It was poorly understood and greatly feared. This terrible effects of this disease have been documented in many great poems and novels. In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women, is is widely believed that the sweet-natured character, Meg, died of TB. Edgar Allen Poe’s epic poem, The Raven, was written while his true love withered from consumption.

In the recent film, The Constant Gardener, written by John Le Carre, a large pharmaceutical company (Three Bees) tests TB medication on unsuspecting citizens of poor African villages. In the film, the medication causes terrible side effects and kills some villagers. The company attempts to cover up their activities, as the characters played by Rachel Weicz and Ralph Fiennes attempt to unravel the corruption (at great personal cost).

Symptoms Of Bacteriophobia

People who fear bacteria may resort to compulsive hand-washing, gloves and even masks. Michael Jackson is often photographed wearing a protective mask which makes his general appearance even more bizarre. He may well suffer from bacteriophobia, although it has not been confirmed. Some people with this disorder frequently use hand sanitizers such as Purell. They will be reluctant to shake hands in case of germ transmission. Donald Trump is one such person. He avoid shaking hands, “whenever possible.”


Bacteriophobia must be addressed through psychotherapy. There is simply no way to avoid the onslaught of bacteria that is present in our daily lives. It lives on us, and in us, and it is everywhere around us. A mental health professional can get at the root of these anxieties and help the afflicted person release their emotions. In some cases, anti-depressants can help the person who fears bacteria.

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