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Cleanliness Rules Germaphobes' Lives

Germaphobes are obsessed with sanitation and feel compelled to clean excessively, but they're really suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

By Leanna Skarnulis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

In the Monk TV series, gentle detective Adrian Monk works the grimy streets of San Francisco but is so driven by a fear of germs that he must scrub his hands after shaking hands with someone. Monk has been called the "poster boy" for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In fact, in an informal survey conducted by the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, OCD patients said they liked the character, who triumphs even when his condition interferes with his ability to do his work.

Monk is a "germaphobe," the popular name for people who become obsessed with germs and dirt and feel compelled to act out rituals of washing and cleaning. Real people with this condition include the late Howard Hughes and Saddam Hussein, who reportedly often ordered visitors to strip and wash with antibacterial soap.

True germaphobes have OCD, which can take various forms. For example, some people with OCD are "checkers." They're obsessed with a fear of losing control of aggressive urges, and their anxiety can be relieved only by checking something, such as whether a burner on the stove has been turned off. Hoarding, counting, and praying are some other manifestations of the disease. People often have multiple forms of OCD.

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