I’ve recently, over the course of the last year, gone from being a pretty average person to being a raging germophobe, and I am exhausted. Instead of remaining on constant, high-alert paranoia, I would like to develop a set of rules that I can follow and rest assured that I’m doing what is reasonably possible to prevent germ-related catastrophe. I’m interested in knowing the chances of xyz germ contamination happening, and how to go about reasonable prevention that won’t disrupt normal routines or inconvenience others. What are your cleaning rituals, when do you take calculated risks, and when do you decide that worrying isn’t worth it?
posted by pluot to health & fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Background (this is long so I apologize in advance):
Pink eye. I started getting paranoid last summer, when my office had a pink eye scare. I got pink eye from a shared keyboard with a pink-eyed coworker, passed it to my boyfriend, and worried incessantly about passing it to roommates or friends. Resulting behavior – never, ever touch my eyes, never use public keyboards.
At the end of the summer, I moved to Taipei, Taiwan. Here, there are different standards of hygiene and sanitation, as well as a whole new host of pests, bugs and climate-related hassles. I think this is where things started getting serious for me.
Fleas. Six months ago, I got fleas in my rented room. We got rid of them, but I actually still have bagged clothes that I haven’t touched since the event, because I am afraid to open the bags and potentially let fleas out. (That’s a side question – how can I go about safely cleaning these clothes?) Resulting behavior – total paranoia, because we never could figure out where the fleas came from. I now avoid all dogs, and for a long time would not go to the park.
Mold. After an extremely cold and damp winter, my drafty room developed a mold problem. The ceiling molded, and the entire bottom plywood surface of my desk also grew a forest of mold. The problem was severe enough that we noticed headaches and breathing difficulty while in the room. We cleaned the ceiling several times and were horrified when we noticed the bottom of the desk; we cleaned it and painted it, and haven’t had a problem since. Resulting behavior – I’ve been aggressive about checking the closet and other spaces for mold, and far less trusting of my ability to keep my apartment clean.
Cockroaches. Cockroaches are a fact of life here. Most apartments – and my university – have a cockroach presence. I want to make sure I keep cockroaches out of my apartment. Lately, there’s been a lot of baby cockroaches crawling around at my school and work, and I’m petrified of picking up a hitchhiker and carrying it home. On a trip this summer, I opened my luggage, which was sitting zipped in our room, and a giant cockroach crawled out. Resulting behavior – try to never let my bag touch surfaces where a cockroach could crawl inside. At school I always sit with my bag in my lap. This is impossible at work, though, and I worry when I notice cockroaches while at work.
Bed bugs. This summer, my boyfriend and I traveled in the Philippines and I came away from the experience petrified of bed bugs. We spent a couple of nights at a nice hotel – a nice hotel! – and one morning when we woke up his entire back – his entire back! – had around sixty bites – oh my god! – on it. We managed to wash and dry our clothes before coming back, but I was still very worried about bringing whatever bit us back home. Resulting behavior – I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sleep soundly in a hotel again. I think my paranoia about bugs was a downer that affected others on a group trip we took after getting back.
Run of the mill germs. Last but not least, I am also afraid of catching the common cold from others, or just having things get dirty. This is something new that I've started after getting to Taipei. I meticulously note what things (straws, utensils, hands) have touched possibly unclean surfaces, and do everything I can to keep these things compartmentalized and clean. This is sometimes impossible and I do have one friend who’s complained that I’m too uptight about hygiene. This particular friend is a teacher and is usually fighting a cold, so she coughs a lot and blows her nose without washing her hands a lot, and then tries to touch me or stroke my hair. I think this is disgusting and unsanitary, but would like to know if I’m being too picky about contact with her. I’ve noticed that my friend isn’t the only person with looser hand-washing criteria than mine – many food service workers here don’t wash their hands, or touch things like money or broom handles before handling my food with their bare hands. (I’ve heard a popular saying that if food is a little dirty, so much the better, because you’ll build up immunity for the really dirty stuff.) When I find myself on crowded public transportation, I suffer because I view most contact with others – especially other people’s bags – as possible disease or bacteria vectors. I worry constantly about using public toilets, and try not to touch anything at all. I keep track of which fingers touched the door, and I try not to use them for anything at all until I wash my hands. I work with kids and if they scratch their heads, I worry they’ve got lice.
I know this kind of incessant worrying is excessive, and I do not like this new paranoid version of myself. I don’t like eyeing potential bio-hazards and diseases everywhere I go, and trying to touch as little as possible all day long. This past weekend, I caught myself trying to not sit or touch surfaces at a party, and I decided I’ve got a problem.
Tldr; I want to know the chances (statistics would be great) of picking up diseases or pests from everyday life, and how to take reasonable preventative measures against picking these up. Stuff like, the very first thing I do when I get home is wash my hands, and then I mentally check it off and don’t worry. Or, this is the way I clean my home and arrange my possessions so that they are easy to clean and not easy for bugs to take residence, and then I don't worry. I’m interested in avoiding the germs and pests that I’ve listed above, as well as anything else anyone has advice for. (One current concern is that with winter approaching, pests like fleas will be more attracted to body heat and more likely to latch onto my bulky layers.) Once I’m doing these things, does anyone have any tips on how to just relax?