Mysophobia: History Of The Fear Of Germs, Washing Hands, And Famous Germaphobes

By | April 2, 2020

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A paramedic wears a protective mask and complete sterile dressing to avoid contact with COVID-19. (Photo by Olivier Matthys/Getty Images)

"Mysophobia" is a more polite term than "neat freak" to describe someone with an irrational fear of contamination, dirt, or germs. In the days of vigilant hand-washing and self-isolation, however, it's starting to look like a more reasonable lifestyle than we've previously regarded it to be. Let's examine the fear of dirt and germs more closely. 

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Fear of germs that can cause illness is not uncommon. (

What Does Mysophobia Mean?

The earliest known use of the word "mysophobia" occurred in 1879, a time when the "germ theory" was being heavily debated in the scientific community. It combines two Greek wordsmysos, meaning "uncleanliness," and phobia, meaning "fear"—although the more widely used and casual "germaphobia" appeared on the scene only about 20 years later.