Bookmark and Share

Spike In Germaphobia

Published: July 01, 2014
Dear TeenHealthFX,

I have recently (within the last month or two) have had a serious spike in germophobia. I don't fear all germs, only gastrointestinal things, mostly stomach bug. Just thinking about it makes me scared. I have OCD, and now the two are just going hand in hand. I wash my hands 5+ times a day, my hands are becoming dry and cracked, people are asking about it. I know it is ridiculous, and wish with all my might that I wasn't terrified of the stomach bug, but I am. I just cannot shake that feeling, no matter how irrational it seems to me. I do not want this to take over my life, and I know it will only escalate and trap me if I do nothing. I would do anything not to fear this, as it is horrible to do so. Please help, because this is causing massive amounts of stress, fear, and is making my OCD worse from the anxiety.

Dear Spike In Germaphobia,

What you are dealing with is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) known as contamination phobia. This form of OCD frequently manifests itself along a few major themes: 

  • Getting an illness, either serious or fatal, or spreading an illness to others through contact with viruses, bacteria, animals, or people who appear to be ill or simply unclean.
  • Becoming ill through contact with such things as blood, urine, feces, semen, sweat, saliva, etc.
  • Being poisoned by dangerous or common household chemicals, or poisoning others accidentally.
  • Becoming ill in a magical way through contact with the names of illnesses, disabled people, or pictures or names of people known to have had serious or fatal illnesses.
  • Having bad luck attaching itself to oneself in a magical way through contact with bad numbers, or objects associated with bad events (clothing worn to a funeral, for example.) 

These obsessive fears are usually dealt with through compulsions. These compulsions might include: 

  • Throwing away or avoiding things thought to be contaminated and that can’t be cleaned
  • Repeated questioning of others as to whether they, or certain things may be contaminated
  • Avoiding certain people, objects, or places seen as being contaminated
  • Constant researching to find out whether certain things may be contaminated or dangerous
  • Magical rituals (prayers, undoing rituals, etc.) to neutralize magical contamination
  • Maintaining clean areas within homes or workplaces that others cannot enter or touch
  • Repeatedly asking others for reassurance that they, or certain things are safe or not 

One of the cruel aspects of the disorder is that the sufferer is aware that the reoccurring thoughts are not rational but he/she cannot stop himself/herself from acting on the ritual. It is also considered as a form of an anxiety disorder. There are many forms of OCD; cleaning, checking, ordering hoarding, to name few. 

OCD is a treatable disorder that usually requires a combination of medication and talk therapy. The most successful therapeutic approaches are Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization) and Cognitive Behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy involves patients starting with exposer to the fear that are easier for them, and gradually work their way up to those that are more difficult.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy is based on the notion that it is not the situation that causes our behavior, but it is our belief about the situation effects how we feel. In this scenario the person works with the irrational thought to debunk them until they no longer have power. 

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area.



Signed: TeenHealthFX