More scary than Halloween: this month in germophobia microbophobia

It seems that any time a holiday comes around in the US, the press starts to ramp up the writing of stories about evil microbes that are lurking all around us. And Halloween appears to be no exception. I am now planning on referring to this attitude as “microbophobia” rather than “germophobia” because to some “germ” implies pathogen and many of these stories fan the flames of fear about any kind of microbe not just pathogens. I note – the term microbophobia comes from some searches I did recently of Google books.

I was thinking of writing up yet another post trying to counter this excessive microbophobia but decided instead to just provide a collection of links to stories over the last month that have a distinctive microbophobia flavor.  Mind you – there are real reasons to be afraid of some of the microbes circulating around these days.  But the links below seem to me to be serious overkill.

These are but a few of the many examples of microbophobia being pushed by the press. Again, there are certainly things to worry about in terms of pathogens in our immediate environment.  Flu season is coming.  Enterovirus might be on the upswing.  Antibiotic resistance is a massive and troubling problem.  And so on.  But please let us not go completely over the top because the more we promote the idea that we should be killing all microbes, the more trouble we are likely to cause, rather than prevent.

2 thoughts on “More scary than Halloween: this month in germophobia microbophobia

    1. The Germinator Protective Transit Jacket is very funny (and has convenient pockets!). From their website: Commuting: convenient, responsible, gross.

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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.