Fear of Germs

Dirt is often the perceived culprit in the spread of germs. Some may call them germaphobes, but those who fear germs may be best classified as having Mysophobia

Other names for this fear include bacillophobia and bacteriophobia and there have been some notable individuals who have struggled with this fear. Those who express fear over germs include pop singer Michael Jackson, playwrite and director Woody Allen as well as millionaire Howard Hughes.

Many who fear germs are prone to the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) of feeling as though they must wash their hands. suggests, “The mysophobe overestimates the risk of being harmed by germs, believing that any potential exposure to germs is dangerous and threatening.”

What Causes Mysophobia

As this fear becomes more common in our world many experts have concluded that the root cause may lie in the fact that many believe we live in a very unsafe environment. The fear of germs may also be related to a secondary fear of contracting an illness from the germs.

The cause of mysophobia may be as small as observing someone in a movie who contracts an illness in a fictional germ warfare. It could also come about due to a childhood illness or observing someone else who became sick from a bacterial or germ-based agent.

A little worry can often become something an individual thinks more and more about until they find very little time to think of anything else.

In some cases business products can add to the phobia. Hand sanitizer, germ killing sprays, sanitary covers, disposable covers, and even germ killing sheets used to wipe down cart handles in the grocery store. All can serve to reinforce a fear of germs in the mysophobe.

Signs of Mysophobia

The fear of dirt, germs and contamination will likely find an mysophobe resistant to the idea of visiting someone in the hospital. They will be reluctant to pick up anything from the ground. Mysophobes will not want to touch handrails or items commonly touched by the population at large (i.e. bus and subway rails and seats – see video below).

Other symptoms include…

  • Holding a hand or arm over the face in an effort to ward off germs
  • A refusal to share personal items or use similar items previously used by someone else
  • Avoids public places for fear of a large collection of germs
  • A strong desire to flee
  • Nausea
  • Panic  attack

Many who have a fear of germs will not participate in sports activities because the objects used in the sport would be used by many individuals. They would also refrain from visiting a fitness center because the machines would be touched by those who potentially had germs that could cause sickness.

Overcoming the Fear of Germs

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is often the most successful therapy used in treating mysophobia. This is the same treatment method used when treating OCD. suggests, “Early sessions of therapy may involve having the individual shake someone’s hand without washing it for five minutes. As the person learns to master the fear, the therapist will guide the sufferer through more intense exposures, such as touching garbage or shaking the hands of hospital patients.”

The USA television series Monk has provided a humorous look at what a fear of germs and OCD look like. Hopefully this article helps you understand a bit more about what a mysophobe lives with every day of their fear.

Mysophobia Video

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