Every day, an individual experiences some form of fear. It may be a fear of heights, of failure but some have a fear of germs. People who fear such micro-organisms are germaphobes.
A germaphobe is a person who has an extreme fear of dirtiness, an obsession with cleanliness and fears touching anything that seems dirty to them. Such people will conduct extensive measures in keeping their place of work, home, and themselves clean by scrubbing and disinfecting any area. It is believed that an estimated 12% of the population has this phobia. According to Psychologist Dr Malcolm Winstanley, It triggers fear and distress in the person every day.
Germaphobia fall under a type of OCD where people often repeat a pattern or prefer to do a certain task repetitively, and cannot control their behaviour.
The person I interviewed wishes to remain anonymous and to be known as Jack instead. He is a 23-year-old student who currently lives in a dorm in London. Jack spends most of his time attending lectures daily and cleaning himself or the dorm room that he rents out. He has never lived in a dorm before as it is his first year at university.
In the UK most dorms are separated from others. So, a person has a bath and bedroom but must share a kitchen space. For the past 6 months, since starting to live in a dorm, Jack has been struggling with his current lifestyle. I decided to interview him as not many people are aware of the struggles a germaphobe goes through daily.
Jack has a habit of cleaning his room at least three times a week. Oftentimes, he cleans in the afternoon, post-lectures. He believes that whenever he comes back to the dorm, he brings all the filth with him and that he makes a mess by taking off his shoes or leaving his footprint on the wooden floors.
Jack not only constantly cleans the floor where he walks but also the room he stays in, which makes it the cleanest area in the dorm. Indeed, clean floors are beneficial as they help prevent any potential accidents, such as slipping if the floor is wet. They also help prevent the spread of other diseases. Keeping everything clean does reduce the risk of transmission but at the same time, it can cause lead to other issues if they live in an environment that is too clean.
According to Vox, too much cleanliness can cause more illnesses than prevent them as the body develops allergies that were not there before.
In the UK, there has been a rise in antibiotic resistance which puts hospitals under high pressure. It is reported that one in four people gets infected by a disease every year and one in twenty can get infected by a virus or bug. Without a doubt, handwashing and maintaining hygiene help prevent diseases from spreading but being over-hygienic can cause infections -Guardian.
Jack's day-to-day life is unique when it comes to preparing food as well. He bought himself a small portable electric cooker to cook in his room. He says he never has trouble cooking in his room as it doesn’t produce any smoke. He adds that cooking in the room where he lives allows him to eat peacefully and he also gets to see the food as it cooks. When he goes out, he often orders drinks rather than food and wipes the glass before taking a sip.
In addition, Jack suffers from small blisters that develop on his hands. It often happens during cleaning he says and they go away on their own. The General Practitioner has no answer for why they occur but they gave him cream for the problem which is a form of steroid that allows for reducing the inflation on the skin. However, according to the Royal Society of Public Health, being too hygienic can cause allergies. It kills off bugs and bacteria which protect our skin and expose us to unhealthy ones. The Royal Society believes being exposed to healthy bacteria helps us build immunity but in Jack’s case since there is limited to no exposure, other problems such as the one on his skin develop.
A survey has been carried out and found that 23% of 2000 participants asked agreed that ‘hygiene in the home is not important because children need to be exposed to harmful germs to build their immune system’. While it is certainly crucial to be exposed to small amounts of bacteria, it is also important to maintain hygiene to a minimum level. Some scientists believe that if people are not exposed to bacteria or infections, then there could be a link to the rise of allergies and asthma. Being exposed to micro bacteria helps to develop our nervous system and benefits our immune system- BBC.
There isn’t a magic cure to fix the OCD that comes with this phobia, but there are steps to help one live with it or to reduce the aftermath of it. According to a 2015 study, Steve Colori mentions the use of exposure therapy. This is where a person tries to expose themselves to the environment that they are scared of the most. This may seem normal to most people and there might be others who do this every day. This, however, poses a major challenge for people who suffer from such OCD. Steve Colori saw that if a person is exposed to such an environment, they can slowly adapt to a more relaxed style of life - reducing the fear and anxiety to levels that were not imaginable before.
Some of the famous names that we know today, such as Nikola Tesla or Donald Trump, have or had a such phobia. It is not a new form of phobia and has been present in humans for many years and will be in the future, too. The question that is most likely to be asked is if it stems from traumatic events or from social interactions that slowly build up over the years. Some cases that are seen in famous people came from events that happened during their lives and other came from nature. This is one of those questions that still baffles us all and remains unanswered.
Edited by: Rhea Jimmy
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