Are You a “Germaphobe”?



Do you avoid indoor playgrounds at local fast food joints? Are you afraid to let your child near a classmate with a runny nose? Is the drinking fountain off limits to you and your family for fear of lingering germs? Are you obsessed with antibacterial products?

            We’ve all heard of terms such as arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), claustrophobia (the fear of small places) and acrophobia (the fear of heights). But what about “germaphobia,” more accurately called mysophobia (the fear of germs or dirt)?

            Nowadays, people have become more aware of the importance of hand washing to fight germs and avoid getting colds and flu. With the availability of hand sanitizers and antibacterial hand wipes, cleaning our hands and killing germs before meals and while we’re out and about is a breeze. Some, however, do tend to take germ-fighting to extremes; and it’s those people that are the true germaphobes.

            Cleaning your hands off and on throughout the day isn’t a bad thing, experts say, but when it becomes something you cannot stop thinking about, something that causes anxiety, and/or something that is a ritual you’re compelled to act out, that is when you know you’re a germaphobe. True germaphobes have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), experts say, and as with all types of OCD, a compulsion is acted out to relieve anxiety produced by an obsessive, intrusive thought. Germaphobes act on irrational fears.

            Kansas City mom Lauri Mink says she’s not an extreme germaphobe, but she does take precautions.

            “I’m not extreme, but I do take necessary precautions and let the kids’ immune systems do the rest,” she says. “We do a lot of hand washings, especially when we've been out of the house. For instance, the kids know that when they come home from school, the store or park, the first thing we do is wash our hands. We also use hand sanitizers—I have one in my purse at all times. I also explain to my children that we shouldn’t kiss friends on the mouths or eat or drink from friends’ utensils or cups.”

Olathe mom Tina Alstatt, on the other hand, admits that she is very much a germaphobe.

            “I’m a chronic hand washer and I use disinfectant wipes on door knobs and light switches constantly,” she says. “I get a tightness in my chest and have anxiety if I don’t wash my hands or do something a certain way. When I go to the grocery store, I have to put the meat on the bottom of the cart and then use antibacterial wipes on my hands. I always have the cashier scan the meat last, and it has to go in separate bags. One time when I bought chicken, the guy took the plastic bag off the chicken and rubbed the package so it could scan. I started panicking because I didn’t have exact change and didn’t want to take any change back from him. I try to pay with exact change as much as possible so I don’t have to touch change from the cashier or accidentally touch their hands.”

            When it comes to her children, Alstatt says they do go to parks and play areas (if her husband takes them), but cleaning hands afterwards is a must. Mink agrees.  

            “We definitely go to the park, but we use wipes with sanitizer afterwards,” Mink says. “I’m not a huge fan of play areas in fast-food restaurants, because we’ve gotten sick nearly every time we’ve gone to one. I don't believe that they clean them regularly. We do go to bounce houses and other fun indoor places occasionally, and when we’re done, we wash our hands and/or use sanitizer before anything else.”

            Should we really worry about taking our children to public parks and play areas? Are they as germy as some of us think? The answer is yes. A public playground is said to be the number one “germiest” place to take your child. But this doesn’t mean you have to avoid parks altogether. Just remember to practice proper hand-washing after playing.

Proper hand washing includes using soap. Regular soap works just as well as antibacterial and actually poses fewer risks. Be sure to rub your hands together vigorously to make a lather and scrub all areas. Continue scrubbing for 20 seconds, because it takes that long to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. A good way to time it is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Then, dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet. (Faucets harbor a lot of hidden germs as well.)

As far as drinking fountains go, studies have shown that they can harbor more germs and bacteria than public toilets. If you or your child do drink from a drinking fountain, experts recommend running the water for 15 seconds before taking a drink to help wash away contamination.

Basically, the best thing you and your child can do to steer clear of germs is to be aware. A great, interactive website for both parents and children to learn more about the dangers of germs and the importance of being clean is the Scrub Club.

Kansas City mom Gina Klein is a writer/photographer who definitely takes precautions when it

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