Verminophobia: The Fear of Germs

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What is Verminophobia?

For many people, germs are just a fact of life, something that is easily dealt with when we wash our hands. For others, germs represent an ever present threat, and simply being around coughing or sneezing people is enough to cause extreme anxiety. These people have verminophobia, also known as the fear of germs. Verminophobia is a common specific phobia that is characterized by extreme anxiety and panicked thoughts about germs. For many verminophobes, even using public transportation or restrooms can cause severe anxiety.

As with many other anxiety and panic disorders, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatments of verminophobia in order to help those affected by the fear of germs.

Causes of Verminophobia

Like many other specific phobias, verminophobia is typically caused by a past traumatic event experienced by the individual. For example, a verminophobe may have had a serious infectious illness when he or she was younger, or a friend or family member may have had a severe virus during the person’s childhood. Other causes may be overexposure to media portraying epidemic-like illness such as the global coverage of swine flu.

Symptoms of Verminophobia

People with verminophobia experience a variety of symptoms in line with other specific phobias, with one big difference; many verminophobes develop obsessive-compulsive disorder, or already have symptoms of OCD. In addition, many of the symptoms of verminophobia are unpredictable in onset, primarily because exposure to overt thoughts or contact with germs is difficult to foresee.


  • Intense anxiety
  • Feelings of panic
  • Urge to escape from germs
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Intense, irrational fear of germs
  • Tendency to start compulsive washing of hands

As with many other specific phobias, the symptoms of verminophobia tend to increase in severity without treatment. Fortunately, there are several possible treatments for those with the fear of germs.

Treatments for Verminophobia

Treatments for specific phobias generally involve intense therapy with a trained professional, and in some cases, the addition of anti-anxiety medication to control severe symptoms. However, anti-anxiety medication is not an effective long-term solution for the fear of germs. The treatments for verminophobia are similar to other phobias, and there are several that have been proven to be effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a therapy that focuses on assessing and then challenging the thoughts underlying the symptomatic behavior of a disorder. CBT is oftentimes an intense therapy.

Exposure Therapy, or systematic desensitization, focuses on gradually exposing patients to their phobias. For example, the first step for verminophobes would be to simply think about contact with sick people or dirty places. Then the patient would watch videos of germs or public places, and finally, when they are ready, they would be taken to public ‘germ-ridden’ places.

Both CBT and exposure therapy have been empirically shown to be effective at treating specific phobias. Mental health professionals who specialize in specific phobias may be able to help those afflicted with the fear of germs.