Social Question

jca's avatar

Do you think our society is too obsessed with germs, bacteria, antibacterials?

Asked by jca (36025points) February 5th, 2010

Do you think that we worry too much about germs and bacteria? It seems like more and more soaps, dish washing detergents, cleansers and hand creams are anti-bacterial. I think I’ve seen Anti-bacterial Windex. Do you think we have become obsessed? Do you think that because the strong germs and bacteria are surviving, we’re doing more harm than good?

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29 Answers

Spinel's avatar

I ask you: is today’s germ phobia or the 19th century’s primitive medical techniques preferable? I would rather be around a sanitizer addict then a smallpox patient. The concern with germs is good: it encourages cleanliness which is the first and most important step for a healthy society.

Granted, there are the few that way overdo it, but in general most people seem to have more pressing needs (e.g. money) on their minds.

Blackberry's avatar

Yeah possibly. Since when is there a need to wash your hands every single time you use the bathroom? Do these people realize that making yourself too clean will just screw you over because you’re not exposing your body to germs, making it able to fight them off better in the future? That’s what killed the aliens in the War of the Worlds lol.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The manufacturers of these products have generated the “need” by clever marketing.
This is like the drug companies that invented disorders to fit some effect or side effect of some new drug they concocted while trying to find a remedy for something else.

e.g. “Chronic dry eye”, “restless legs syndrome” etc.

Ame_Evil's avatar

I think this coupled with taking medication after contracting the smallest of symptoms is probably not wise. Personally I try to steer clear from medication unless if I can’t avoid it (ie I have a headache that rivals being smashed in the head with a chainsaw). I just feel that i’ll rather give my body a good starting chance if I contract something potentially dangerous. However I do wash my hands quite a lot, but not on the verge of OCD, but I think this is more down to being clean than avoiding germs.

I am really interested in seeing some data though comparing some of this with life expectancy. Though I expect it’ll be confounded to f***.

lilikoi's avatar


I’m with @Dr_Lawrence on this. I once met a marketer who worked for a pharmaceutical company who indeed confirmed this.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

No. I think just enough obsessive individuals exist to create a market and set off advertising campaigns by pharmaceutical companies to make people think the society is obsessive of germs, etc. Repetitive commercial and ad saturation that effectively depict symptoms then set off every hypochondriac and their mothers.

The abuse of antibiotics, first by physicians treating viral infections with antibiotics, and secondly by patients who abuse properly prescribed antibiotics by not taking them as prescribed, cause super infections to develop and spread. This is something very real to be addressed. If you are prescribed an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, take the bloody things as ordered for the length of time they were ordered.

DO NOT stop taking them simply because the symptoms disappear. At this point, you’ve only killed off the larger, weaker population of the germ and left the smaller, stronger germs to replicate and spread as a super infection. We often have no defense for these new, stronger germ populations..

lfino's avatar

I thoroughly believe that using too many anti-bacterial products will result in having no defense against bacteria. I don’t want to give the impression that I live in grime because I definitely don’t, but I also do not use or carry the gel that’s all over the place these days, and I don’t use anti-bacterial anything. I don’t wash the tops of Coke cans before drinking out of them, and I’ll even drink out of the hose if I’m outside doing yardwork. Gasp! I grew up playing in the creek with the neighbor kids and we were in mud all day long, or else in a barn where we were covered in dust. We didn’t use precious daylight to come in to get clean. The last time I was sick was almost three years ago. I haven’t had a cold in two years. When the rest of the household comes down with something, I might feel something coming on, but then I take a nap for an hour and I wake up feeling fine. I feel like I’ve built up a natural immunity because I allow germs to be around.

Mariah's avatar

I carry antibacterial gel because I’m on immunosuppressants. I don’t think the general population necessarily needs to, though.

skfinkel's avatar

I think that we are overdosing ourselves on anti-bacterials. Washing hands well is what is needed—and that is really all, unless perhaps like @Mariah, there is an immune problem. Not only do we allow the worst of the bad grow—the ones that don’t die—but we probably also are killing bacteria that are harmless, and perhaps help us? They stopped unintentionally killing women in childbirth when doctors washed their hands between patients. That’s a pretty clear sign that washing well is enough for normal health.

Barbs's avatar

The thing is being obsessed by cleanliness means our imune systems will not be able to build up antibodys as easily so that when we really do come to have to fight something like a cold we will find it more difficult.
Of course I dont mean that we should all go round smelling of ****.
We need viruses and germs. Viruses and germs are all around us and the majority of them dont kill you!

jaytkay's avatar

From the Mayo Clinic:

The scope of your responsibility
Antibiotic resistance is a pressing, global health problem. Nearly all significant bacterial infections in the world are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. When you abuse antibiotics, the resistant microorganisms that you help create can become widely established, causing new and hard-to-treat infections. That’s why the decisions you make about antibiotic use — unlike almost any other medicine you take — extend far beyond your reach. Responsible antibiotic use protects the health of your family, neighbors and ultimately the global community.

Mariah's avatar

Interestingly enough, one of the strains of bacteria that is sometimes resistant to common hand sanitizers, C. Difficile, can be much more successfully killed by soap and water.

Arisztid's avatar

I really do have to wonder if we are altering our children’s resistance to common bacteria and viruses with the extreme emphasis on sanitize this, sanitize that. <old codger> I was born in 1962 and have a pretty good immune system. I am not knocked over by every bug that comes by and there was nowhere near the emphasis on santizing and the, well, ridiculous safety warnings that there are today. </old codger>. Now at work I am extremely germ conscious and, when I get home, I think I should burn my scrubs, lab coat, and then scour myself in the shower but I work in a hospital. Who knows what nasties I carry home.

I do know that diseases are becoming increasingly more resistant to antibiotics because of the use of antibiotics. I believe that people who take an antibiotic for every sniffle, including viruses (antibiotics do not affect viruses other than opportunistic infections), are contributing to this. I know that I have had doctors who want to hand out antibiotics for viruses to me and, when I point out that this is a virus I am being seen for, can I please be given something for the symptoms, they are surprised. Of course, yes, viruses can open the door for bacteriological infections and those need treatment.

I also tend to use homeopathic remedies (old ways my father treated me and things I have learned since then) and only go to the doctors when nothing works and, if it is a virus, it is too unpleasant to wait through or has caused an opportunistic infection.

gemiwing's avatar

I think we have gone a bit too far because we don’t have the correct information. People taking antibiotics for viruses, fearing to touch anything that someone else has touched and so forth.

Sometimes I wonder if our secretly neurotic society is starting to crack at the seams.

odali's avatar

Yes, agreed with BlackBerry. We are completely sterile, that screws our immune system. I eat things that i drop on the floor sometimes, depending on where it is and what it is (5 second rule), I never use hand sanitiser, I don’t wash my hands all the time. I shower once a day. I havn’t been sick in years. I’ve gotten seriously ill once in my life, with scarlett fever. Seasonal flu? Nope. Cold? very rarely, and when I do get it, it’s not bad and lasts maybe 3 days. I’m pretty clean but im not sterile. And thats what the key word should be. We’re humans, we should be clean. But now sterile, that’s just too much. Your immune system will have no idea what to fight if we dont let it see anything, how do you think vaccinations work?

onesecondregrets's avatar

I love how some people can be “germaphobes” yet when they’re at home, I wonder… I really wonder if every time after they use their bathroom they wash their hands or if when they’re cooking a meal, especially with meat or eggs that they worry about the bacteria. People caught up with germs and bacteria annoy the fuck out of me. I believe in the 5+ second rule and the “a little dirt won’t kill you” idea, mmkay.

faye's avatar

Yes, yes, yes!! There are jellies here who throw away roasts that sat on the counter overnight!!! sorry to bring that up but it fits here so well!!

odali's avatar

@faye yes! my mother is like that! it is so suprising to come home for dinner a couple nights a week, and something she made 2 days ago she throws away! it’s been refrigerated and is still good! I always try to catch her before she does this so I get free food at my apartment. hahaha

Merriment's avatar

Yes! In our attempt to protect our children from germs we have denied their immune systems the opportunity to develop resistance.

You will see evidence of this when you see a kid from a germ conscious/phobic family enter a public situation like daycare or school for the first time.

I know this first hand because, yes I admit it, I was a germy phobic mommy! I learned later that it would have been much wiser to allow my firstborn to lick the floors and get the illnesses over with while he was still at home full time and could be cared for without missing great chunks of school.

I still draw the line at leaving food out overnight however..screaming sh*ts from a rancid roast just seems like too big a gamble, I like to play when there are better odds :)

OpryLeigh's avatar

Yes I do. I’m sure it’s good to be exposed to a certain amount of germs to help boost the immune system. Having said that, there must be a reason why our life expectancy is longer than it was 100 yers ago!

HTDC's avatar

Yes, I think germs and bacteria have been given a bad name, a bad reputation if you like. Even if people know these things don’t have the negative effects and consequences as we’re led to believe it still peace of mind to know these anti-bacterial products have killed the germs. It’s all about positive reassurance that these “dirty”, “unhealthy” and even “dangerous” germs have been removed. Even if they didn’t need to be in the first place.

belakyre's avatar

The only microscopic things that my friends are afraid of are sperm and egg cells meeting each other.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes. And it can be counterproductive. Kids seem to be more likely to develop allergies when the anti-germ behavior becomes obsessive.

We also need to deal with the increasing problem of multi-drug resistant bacteria. I saw a documentary about a prison in Russia. A lot of inmates are infected with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. Second-line drugs are often too expensive. The reason why so many caught it is indeed a weakened immune system. Alcoholism. Smoking. Unhealthy food. And so forth. The problem gets worse when they get released. Then it spreads to non-criminals as well. And it can travel around the world.

Paul W. Ewald is an evolutionary biologist, specializing in the evolution of infectious disease. He asks the question: Can we domesticate germs? Ewald reasons that, for the control of infectious diseases, alternative strategies should be privileged over the never-ending development of more new drugs. The central idea consists of creating conditions that favor the less virulent variants of pathogenic microbes — in contrast to the present rise in drug-resistant strains due to the overuse of anti-infective medicines.

Wolves were aggressive. Dogs were domesticated by humans. Could this strategy work for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis for example? Could TB evolve toward mildness?

Great food for thought, I think.

faye's avatar

@Merriment You would be able to tell easily if foof was rancid!!! Your nose would say bon’t eat this. Again I say roasts used to be wrapped on a tea towel and set on a cool shelf for the night in a million households before refridgeration.

Merriment's avatar

@faye – the old sniff test actually isn’t that reliable. I have seen pumpkin pies literally bubbling with bacteria that still smelled “okay”. That a million households used to do it and apparently didn’t die as a result (or did they?) doesn’t really prove anything except maybe they had cast iron stomachs or no central heating to keep things happening in the petri dish?

Also many older people, who have a diminished sense of smell and taste frequently give themselves food poisoning because they can’t smell that well and eat it thinking it is okay.

I helped an ill and elderly lady once that had been eating a chicken and rice dish that was so rancid I thought there was a dead animal in her house decaying. Fortunately she survived once she was hospitalized.

I do agree with you that it has gotten a bit paranoid on the subject like the advice to put the seething hot soup directly into the fridge to avoid bacteria growth. Thing is all that heat can spoil the food already in the fridge.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We’re messy parents, there’s dirt all over – I don’t mind because it’s good for their immune system, as is eating boogers (look it up)..the bigger problem is the antibiotics we consume in our foods and how that leads to antibiotics prescribed for infections not working as much…that worries me more than dirt and I switched my kids to vegetarianism.

lfino's avatar

@faye, my mom used to do that, more or less, with roasts. She didn’t wrap them, but just let them thaw out overnight in the sink. We also didn’t used to keep eggs in the fridge. We had a pull-out shelf in a lower cabinet and that’s where they were stored all the time I lived at home. Why is it that we have to refrigerate now? I keep mine in the fridge, but I’m not really sure if it’s absolutely necessary now or not. Does anyone know if it is, or is it just one of those ‘non-germ’ things that we’ve all been subjected to?

faye's avatar

@lfino I’ve read eggs keep longer in the fridge. We didn’t have them in the fridge on the farm tho because there were never that many. Butter, ketchup, bread, cakes, on the cupboard but we were well off (!) enough to have a fridge. A couple of the neighbors had the cubby without a window or a root cellar where the meat went.

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