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Germs: The Cultural Phenomena of Germ Phobia

Updated on July 19, 2014

Are We So Afraid of Germs That We Are Making Ourselves Sick?

Last night's news had a story about shopping carts. Someone had tested the handles of lots of carts in four states. My native Iowa was one of them. They showed toddlers riding in the seats next to the handles and then told us that there are more germs, including e coli, on these than are in toilets.

Well, everyone in the story was very upset. I was a little upset, but then I thought. Surely this has been going on for the entire history of shopping carts. Why aren't there massive outbreaks of e coli, instead of the rare instances? Why aren't we all dead?

When my brother was a kid just after WWII polio was a huge scare. There were lots of kids who did get it. Years later, I remember being scared to death of pictures of kids in iron lungs that were in the Weekly Reader. Well, there was a mini epidemic in my parents' town. My mom was very clean and made sure that Micheal was clean, got enough sleep and other important things and then sent him out to play with the other kids. A woman down the street wouldn't let her son out to play, because she didn't want him to get germs. Well, yes, her son was the one who got polio and died. I wasn't born when that happened, but I heard the story often enough that it shaped my life. Said brother recently stayed with my father while I was away. I hear that he wouldn't dust the bookshelves without rubber gloves. Didn't he learn anything from his childhood?

On a smaller scale, when I was little, I often went out to the house next door in the dead of winter with no hat or coat and sometimes no shoes. Now Mom wouldn't let me out to play that way, but I did it briefly. My friend, Mark, was never allowed to set foot outside the door without a snow suit, boots, etc. I never got a cold and he had constant sniffles.

A. Guiterman. 1871- 1943

Strictly Germ-proof

I read this poem for English class when I was in the ninth grade. I never forgot it. In fact, I think I have lived my life by its philosophy. I am clean, healthy and not germ phobic!

We also see that germ phobia is not new to Americans and that others have been commenting on it for decades, at least.

BTW, at the bottom of this lens you will see part of another poem by this same author. I see a parallel, do you?

Arthur Guiterman. 1871- 1943

Strictly Germ-proof

THE Antiseptic Baby and the Prophylactic Pup

Were playing in the garden when the Bunny gamboled up;

They looked upon the Creature with a loathing undisguised;-

It wasn't Disinfected and it wasn't Sterilized.

They said it was a Microbe and a Hotbed of Disease;

They steamed it in a vapor of a thousand-odd degrees;

They froze it in a freezer that was cold as Banished Hope

And washed it in permanganate with carbolated soap.

In sulphurated hydrogen they steeped its wiggly ears;

They trimmed its frisky whiskers with a pair of hard-boiled shears;

They donned their rubber mittens and they took it by the hand

And elected it a member of the Fumigated Band.

There's not a Micrococcus in the garden where they play;

They bathe in pure iodoform a dozen times a day;

And each imbibes his rations from a Hygienic Cup-

The Bunny and the Baby and the Prophylactic Pup.

I know germs are real and they spread nasty diseases. We have to be clean and take care.

However, my thesis here is that Americans tend to be germ phobic. This at best makes unnecessary worry that is mentally unhealthy and at worst can make people physically unhealthy.

History of Germs in Hospitals

In the 1800's they didn't know too much about germs. A doctor would attend someone dying of an infectious disease, then go right to a mother giving birth, and not even wash his hands. Women died. In fact, hospitals were looked at a places where people went to die.

The discovery of the germ and its relationship to diseases has saved a lot of people lives, millions. It was a good thing. If someone were going to open me up exposing my insides I would want him or her to have the cleanest hands with cleaner gloves that haven't touched anything.

Even today hospitals are hot beds of disease; staff and lots of nasty things that could make sick people sicker. I want lots of hand washing and care in hospitals.

However, I used to work in an insurance company, with several nurses. They would stand at the bathroom sink, leave the water running while they washed (in spite of a drought) use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and another to open the bathroom door. Then they would go out and touch their computers and phones with bare hands. Should I have told them that the phones and computers had as many or more germs as the bathroom did? I just shook my head.

In my never to be humble opinion, that was just plan irrational. And an example of Americans being nuts about germs, as person after person starting using this custom.

Researching this lens:

1. I discovered that there is a rock band named Germs that has a lot of videos.

2. A lot of people have made some very funny clips about germs. Many of them help to make my point about the craziness of the germ obsession/phobia that has become America.

3. I found some that shed light on the actual facts about germs. They do exist, they can cause problems, just as they can help. You will find information and videos about germs amongst the humor.

An Example of Germ Phobia

I do not leave my purse on the floor of a public, or even private, bathroom as this woman did. I would think most people would know that.

However, no one in her family is sick. There is not a huge outbreak of disease in Iowa or the other three shopping cart states. So why the hysteria? Yes, it is a good idea to not leave your purse on the floor of a bathroom, but people do it all the time.

Note that the mother in the video is a germ a phobe. She drove herself to get rid of all germs, yet she didn't think of everything. Yet her family was healthy.

Not All Germs Are Bad; We Really Need Some

Hand Sanitizers Proven No More Affective Than Mother's Spit . This is a spoof from Great Britain, worthy of The Onion, and well worth reading for the laugh.

However, here is the deal. I read about ten reports about hand sanitizers. They all said something different. They gave effectiveness for killing germs from 99% to 40%. Even the nurse who reported 99% was clear that they weren't enough for things like blood and dirt. People still have to wash their hands. The danger is that some people will think that the sanitizers protect them from everything.

And not one of the articles I read gave any information that states that people who use these things are any healthier than people who don't. And isn't that the reason to use them, to be healthier? Unless of course, we acknowledge that the psychological issue of knowing that there are fewer germs is more important than actual health.

When You Try to Kill All Bad Germs You Kill The Good Ones, Too!

Pro-biotics are bacteria, germs that you kill when you kill bad germs. In fact, pro-biotics, when left alone, will deal with a lot of the bad germs.

Pro-biotics are used to treat all sorts of GI and urinary tract problems. When you take anti-biotics you kill the pro-biotics and should replace them, by the billions. I am not saying there aren't times when anti-biotics aren't necessary. When I have been bitten by ticks, I have been tested and taken anti-biotics. But I know the down side.

We need billions of germs in our bodies. For most of our lives they create a balance. We can live with some bad germs because they are balanced by the good germs.

Vaccinations have worked because they are in fact putting the germs in our bodies that helps build anti-bodies to fight the bad germs. Our immune systems can be over whelmed when there are too many bad germs, but if there are not enough, or none are the pro-hand sanitizers would have, then the body gets no practice in fighting them off.

When the Europeans came to America, they brought with them germs and diseases that were unknown on the American continents. Because they hadn't existed among the indigenous populations those people had not been able to build up anti-bodies and immunities to these diseases. They were less able to fight the germs and more likely to die when they got sick.

We have had an ability to fight off germs and disease. That would explain why, even though we do get sick, we are not all sick and dying from touching the 10's of thousands of shopping carts that we have all touched in our lives. Would we be able to do this as well after a lifetime of hand sanitizers, assuming they really work?

This Made Me Giggle!

This very clever video is based on the 50's style government documentary. I giggled over it. But I must say that having seen it, even though I scoff at what I call the over concern with germs in our society, I will probably start closing the toilet lid when I flush.

We Are So Afraid of Germs That We Are Making Ourselves Sick

We are so obsessed with germs we wash away all the good germs. .

Do You Think Americans Are Too Obsessed with Germs?

Are Germs the New Boogie Man, Sacring Even Each Other?

Are Germs the New Boogie Man, Sacring Even Each Other?
Are Germs the New Boogie Man, Sacring Even Each Other?

This Is a Real Pet Peeve of Mine, Warning: You May Not Want to Read

OK, I will give you evidence that toilet seat covers do nothing but make people feel better and clog the public toilets of America.

But heck, if people want to use them that is their business. However, this is my pet peeve. We assume that they use these covers because they don't want their bottoms to touch where my bottom (or yours) has been. Ok, fine. But when I walk into a stall and see a disposable cover on the seat I think, "Gee, some woman thinks her bottom shouldn't touch where mine has, but thinks its ok for me to have to use my hands to remove where her bottom was." Well, I don't say it quit that nicely. Grrr.....

Now are these fillers of land fill really helpful? Probably not. Toilet seat covers are psychological aids

Read the article if you don't believe me, it has lots of links to scientific studies, but the bottom line is: "All those paper covers do is mentally separate your backside from the countless bums that have occupied the same space. Before anyone gets their panties in a twist, let's listen to a few medical resources:"

Use your covers if you want and God bless. Just please remember the person behind you and get rid of them.

Everything I Need to Know About Germs I Learned in Kindengarten

1. Wash your hands when you go to the bathroom

2. Stop worrying about the germs you have been living with your entire life. They have always been on the phones and door knobs. People live healthy lives.

The Dry Humour of the Brits

I am really trying to find a serious video about germs, but I keep finding these funny ones. This one is long and you have to appreciate really dry humor (or humour in Britland), but it is worth watching.

The latest steel is rustless,

Our tennis courts are sodless,

Our new religion, godless

A. Guiterman. 1871- 1943

Can Anyone Say It Better Than George Carlin?

Adrian Monk: The Consummate Germ Phobe

Germs and H1N1 AKA Swine Flu

Now I have stated that I think that people are germphobic. I stand by that. However, remember that I have also stood by common sense hygiene practices. Wash your hands.

I will even go so far as to say that you should probably do more this winter. H1N1 is real and people have died. It does spread easily.

Cough into your sleeve if you don't have a tissue. And by all means wash your hands.

Hand sanitizers? I have read conflicting reports. They work, they don't work. The bottom line is that you should use soap and water when you can. If you can't, well, why not.

Here is and article that says that they are as good as hand washing. Don't believe it

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Germs Make Me Sick! (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) (Reading Rainbow book)
Germs Make Me Sick! (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) (Reading Rainbow book)

With Marilyn Hefner's new full color illustrations, bacteria and viruses have never looked so good! As packed with wit and good humor as with charts and diagrams, this book is still the best explanation of how your body fights germs. ‘An introduction to bacteria and viruses and how each of the two forms attacks cells and makes a person feel sick. The text mixes information with reassurance. . . . A nonthreatening first exposure, administered with a pleasant bedside manner.' 'K. A Reading Rainbow Featured SelectionBest Children's Science Books 1995 (Science Books and Films)

GermGuardian GG1000 Pluggable UV-C Sanitizer and Deodorizer, Kills Germs, Freshens Air and Reduces Odors from Pets, Smoke, Mold, Cooking and Laundry, Germ Guardian Air Purifier
GermGuardian GG1000 Pluggable UV-C Sanitizer and Deodorizer, Kills Germs, Freshens Air and Reduces Odors from Pets, Smoke, Mold, Cooking and Laundry, Germ Guardian Air Purifier

Germ Guardian UV-C PLUG-IN Air Sanitizer effectively utilizes Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) technology to kill airborne germs in the home or office. A whisper-quiet but powerful fan pulls viruses into the germ-killing chamber where the germ-laden air is bombarded with ultraviolet-C light and 99.9% of viruses, bacteria and mold spores are destroyed. Then the sanitizer circulates clean air back into the room. This unit is great for stopping the spread of airborne germs and kills odors. Great for small spaces such as bathrooms and bedrooms.

Germs Are Not for Sharing (Board Book) (Best Behavior Series)
Germs Are Not for Sharing (Board Book) (Best Behavior Series)

Sneezes, coughs, runny noses, spills, and messes are facts of everyday life with children. And that's why it's never too soon to teach little ones about germs and ways to stay clean and healthy. This book is a short course for kids on what germs are, what they do, and why it's so important to cover them up, block them from spreading, and wash them down the drain. Simple words complement warm, inviting, full colour illustrations that show real-life situations kids can relate to. A special section includes tips and ideas for discussion and activities with parents and caregivers (pb edition only).

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

With a new chapter. The phenomenal bestseller—over 1.5 million copies sold—is now a major PBS special.Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples. This edition includes a new chapter on Japan and all-new illustrations drawn from the television series.Until around 11,000 BC, all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren't native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences.He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery. In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers. 32 illustrations.

Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but...Invisible Germs / Esos desagradables detestables sucios completamente asquerosos pero... invisibles ... y español) (English and Spanish Edition)
Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but...Invisible Germs / Esos desagradables detestables sucios completamente asquerosos pero... invisibles ... y español) (English and Spanish Edition)

Encourage the formation of good health habits in children. Through playful and colorful illustrations, this popular children's book shows the germs that cause illness and how important hand washing is to good health. Includes health information

WASH YOUR HANDS! (Little Princess Books)
WASH YOUR HANDS! (Little Princess Books)

When the little princess hears about the germs and nasties living all around her, she understands the importance of washing her hands a lot.

The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter
The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter

Germs are everywhere. Invisible to the naked eye, they're on everything we touch, eat, breathe -- on every single inch of our skin. Practical and enlightening, this fascinating historical survey of the microscopic world -- from E. coli and Lyme disease to mad cow disease and anthrax -- will keep readers mesmerized while helping them stay healthy.

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

Public sanitation and antibiotic drugs have brought about historic increases in the human life span; they have also unintentionally produced new health crises by disrupting the intimate, age-old balance between humans and the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies and our environment. As a result, antibiotic resistance now ranks among the gravest medical problems of modern times. Good Germs, Bad Germs tells the story of what went terribly wrong in our war on germs. It also offers a hopeful look into a future in which antibiotics will be designed and used more wisely, and beyond that to a day when we may replace antibacterial drugs and cleansers with bacterial ones.


Stars go here!

I Hope I Have Given You Something to Think About: If You Think I Am Nuts Give It to Me in the Dual!

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    • JoleneBelmain profile image


      6 years ago

      There is a very fine line between being clean and stepping over into the phobia area of clean, we just need to find the balance... then there are the people who just don't care and think that if it won't kill it will make you stronger. Well in one sense this is true, but why carry some germs around spreading them and possibly killing them and you? Be clean, just don't be over clean. Great lens :)

    • jolou profile image


      7 years ago

      We just need to use common sense.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      Another great lens - this should have a Purple Star. BTW the British Humour video is blocked for me (Sony copyright issues).

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I know some folks have real issues about germs and it is fairly common. We can thank the hyper-active media drama queens, some less than scrupulous companies and maybe even a few people in the medical field for creating a panic over something that we have lived with for years.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Fecal Fallout from the toilet seats being left up... I will never be able to sleep again with the toilet seat left up!! Yeah right!! I don't know how we lived this long Margo, we should have died many years ago apparently!!

    • Othercatt profile image


      7 years ago

      I don't use public bathrooms and I wash my toilet every time before I use it.

      This may sound weird because I have mysophobia, but I refuse to use hand sanitizer. I was told a long time ago that yes, hand sanitizer kills germs. But it also leave the dead germs on your hands. I was also told that excessive use of sanitizer will eventually cause normal germs to mutate into super germs. I wish they would just ban the use of sanitizer before someone else's overuse causes super germs.

      I accidentally deleted your comment this morning. But I figured you wouldn't spam me. I hope this is the right lens. So instead of just linking to this lens, I'm going to feature it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting. I think we should be safe just be taking sensible precautions, like washing our hands etc. One of the reasons that "superbugs" such as MRSA spread through hospitals is not just that they are "super", but that even some of the medical staff forgot to wash their hands.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm a firm believer in washing hands, but the kids today are asking for germ-x instead. I tell them there's a sink and soap in the back of my lab, but that's not good enough. They think the germ-x works better. They're wrong.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Do you know what I like now that stores with carts are offering...those hand wipes at the door...I hate touching the shopping carts...and the door handles...escalator railings...ugh...I love my little bottles of hand sanitizer. :o) (ok now, seriously...1 of us has to stop 1st...I'm begging you!...I'm still playing catch up...whereas you are on comment crack) Thanks for visiting my RV Travel lens and sharing with me your mother's story...oddly enough, that's my mother's lens :o) She wrote 3...she didn't get bit by the Squidoo bug.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 

      7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I think you are right and thanks for making your views known. Spending a life worrying about germs isn't a very enjoyable way to be.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      7 years ago from Concord VA

      I think you're right! You have to use common sense, that's all. Great lens!

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      7 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Thanks for this lens on germphobic behavior. I for one am extremely conscious of germs.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is so very true. Our body needs to learn to develop natural resistance against the outside world (in which the nasties continually evolve). To keep up we need to let our guard down a bit so our immune system can stay on top of things. Great lens. Rated.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You have done some very good research on the topic of germs Margo. I have to agree with you, let the kids play. However, I am very happy that stores and libraries are providing hand wipes these days with the flue thing going around. I have started using them and appreciate the attempts at trying to stop the spread of germs further. ~ Last year when my granddaughter I babysit for started pre-school, I was sick till school let out. There were a lot of things I hadn't been exposed to so I was sick. This year, we haven't been sick one day with her in head-start. I'm very glad of that. ~ Very good lens, with lots to think about. ~ Blessed by an angel!!!

      (p.s. - Thanks for sharing about going to see U2 at Madison Square Garden, great story!)


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Well, I must admit that I surely wash my hands more than I used to -- funny that despite such precautions, the previous year I was sick with virus and colds more than in previous years. I'm thinking that it is coming from the sharing of germs at work.

    • julcal profile image


      9 years ago

      Absolutely great lens! There's a quote in Jung's DMR's. He went to visit a tribal community. He had a meeting with their leader and they were talking about health and illness because a boy was seriously ill. Jung wanted to know what kind of illness he had. The leader looked at him queerly and said, we ask "what God sent this illness to this particular boy at this particular time."

      nobody in the village was worried about being around the boy and becoming ill. they knew the illness wasn't meant for them. They were not afraid of germs.


    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      9 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Glad you added Adrian Monk. He is one of my favorites and even he got a cold on one episode. Yes, I think you can overdo it but I still think that "washing your hands" very often is so important. Nice job on this lens.


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