They're inside of me,
Can't get 'em offa me,
I'm covered with... microscopic bacteria.
What do they want from me?
What'll they do to me?
There's no escape for me,
I'm crawling with... microscopic bacteria."
Known to psychologists as "mysophobia" and to others as "germophobia", this trope describes characters who have a crippling fear of germs. This is one of the common symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a phobia that, in fact, more or less affects most people. We are instinctively afraid of all things that are by definition highly contagious (like rotting corpses or waste), and for a good reason; this trope is about someone who lets this fear consume them.
This goes well beyond simple fear. Realistic examples might refuse to touch anything that hasn't been extensively washed, while more over-the-top versions can go so far as to fear the germs are sentient and conspiring to make them sick (though research has shown they can work together, and may even be capable of messing with your head). Imagining the germs as Monstrous Germs can increase the phobia.
In more fantastic settings, the fear can actually be justified as the plague may actually be sentient and/or much deadlier than anything we know in real life. It's not an uncommon plot to have a character develop this problem for a short time in order to deliver An Aesop about taking risks is a necessary part of life.
Compare Neat Freak, Hypochondria, Sickly Neurotic Geek. This trope can be paired with White Is Pure because shows stains and aids a germophobe in finding dirt and stains.
- Akagi from Kemono Jihen is so afraid of getting dirty that he carries wet wipes around with him all the time. At one point, he gets defeated by a little kid who exploited his weakness and pissed on him, causing him to get a nervous breakdown.
- Shirotani from Ten Count has mysophobia and therefore wears gloves while he's out, washes his hands compulsively, and is hesitant to touch certain objects.
- In Happy Heroes, Sick S., one of the three Supermen of Planet Guling, is characterized entirely by his immense fear of germs. In one episode, he needs to wear a special suit to save a child in a mud pit.
- Aunt Daiyu in Stitch & Ai is such a big-time mysophobe that she always wears gloves in double layers and sprays sanitizer all over several spaces she goes to. She also falsely believes that the mountains that her nieces Ai and Jiejie love are highly infected with germs while the city is a nice and clean place, despite that cities are way more polluted than mountains no matter how "clean" they are. In one episode, she even faints upon realizing that a window that Ai opens to help Daiyu catch her breath after fainting before is bringing in the mountain air outside.
- Inverted with George Carlin; he famously spoke on how, since he grew up in New York City, swimming in the East River (which was filled with raw sewage) tempered his immune system so that he never got sick. He went on the say how humans can be like this, but the immune system needs targets to practice on. If one remains in a sterile environment, the immune system never gets a chance to develop properly so when something really strange comes along, people would not be able to survive it.
- The post-Infinite Crisis Brainiac is this. While battling Superman in the eponymous story, he is thrown into a swamp, and traumatized by all the microscopic lifeforms crawling over him.
- A-Pex from Power & Glory is the Comic Book poster boy of this trope. Allen Powell was already somewhat phobic beforehand, but the NIA's super-power treatments turn him into a full-blown mysophobe, even though A-Pex is an invulnerable Flying Brick. In the first issue, he's masturbating with gloved hands while two prostitutes frolic in front of him; when they attempt to draw him into the action, he screams, "Who knows where you've been?!"
- Iggy from Dogs of C-Kennel.
- In Peanuts, Lucy is not afraid of germs in general, but often freaks out about "dog germs" when she's licked or kissed by Snoopy.
- Spotless McPartland, in Dick Cavalli's Winthrop.
- The unnamed drug dealer in the Azumanga Daioh fic Control has an explicit fear of germs. It began after his brother died of syphilis.
- In Frozen, due to Anna having her memories of Elsa's powers erased, she comes to the assumption that Elsa always wears Conspicuous Gloves because she's terrified of dirt. (The pre-germ theory version of this trope?)
- In Spirited Away, Yubaba's son Boh never leaves his nursery because his Beloved Smother has given him this fear by overprotecting him. His phobia appears to have disappeared after Zeniba turns him into a mouse.
- In Bedtime Stories (2008), hotel billionaire Barry Nottingham is a perfectly nice, friendly authority figure, but is utterly terrified of germs, to the point where when Skeeter needs to talk with him in his hotel suite, Nottingham insists they converse in near-total darkness simply because germs produce 80% faster in light. By the end of the film, Skeeter manages to help him out of it, to the point where in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, Nottingham had decided to go to medical school and became a school nurse.
- The Cat in the Hat: Joan Walden's boss, Mr. Humberfloob, is this. His employees have to wash their hands constantly, and when a new employee shakes his hand, he promptly fires him on the spot before scrubbing his hands with hand sanitizer. He's also a Neat Freak who will fire anyone who doesn't have a spotlessly clean house for meet and greets.
- In the segment "They're Creeping Up on You" segment of Creepshow, wealthy, and ruthless, businessman Upton Pratt lives in a hermetically-sealed "clean room"-type apartment because he grew up in the city slums where there was always dirt, grime, and bugs, specifically cockroaches. After he gets a call from the widow of another competitor he drove to suicide, roaches appear in his apartment, in his food, and eventually bursting out of his body.
- A minor character in the film of K-PAX was committed because of crippling mysophobia. The main character cured it by engineering a near-death experience, which caused the resident psychologist no small amount of confusion.
- Becky, in Ravers, is terrified of germs. Notably, even in the midst of a deadly crisis, she is still hampered by her need to avoid source of potential infection, hampering her ability to escape.
- Ed Begley, Jr. as the antagonist Ebner Frost in Santa with Muscles.
- Super Mario Bros. (1993): When Koopa first meets the Mario Bros., he wipes his hands off with tissues and even has them sprayed with disinfectant after he shakes their hands. In a Deleted Scene (which was included in the junior novelization) when he has a lab technician devolved into primordial ooze simply for sneezing.
- Bob from What About Bob? is afraid of germs, among many other things. He stays in his apartment as much as possible, and uses tissues to avoid actually touching things. He gets better over the course of the film.
- At least Mr. Dragon, the albino spymaster from The Eiger Sanction has an excuse.
Miss Cerebus: I don't think Mr. Dragon's affliction is a joking matter.Hemlock: I thought it was rather humorous myself. A spy network run by a bloodless freak who can't stand light or cold.Miss Cerebus: Or germs! Are you healthy?Hemlock: Shall I turn my head and cough?Miss Cerebus: No known infections?Hemlock: Nothing other than the usual. Syphilis, running sores and clap.
- The Ultra Series-parody film, Ultraman Zearth, has the titular Ultra being absolutely horrified of germs, to the point of obsessively washing his hands in every subsequent scene and his Transformation Trinket being his... toothbrush. Where he can transform himself into an Ultra by rapidly brushing his teeth. Naturally, the villainous Alien Benzene exploits Zearth's weakness by tricking him into walking through mud and making him freak out after touching dirt.
- Isaac Asimov:
- In The Caves of Steel, the Spacers (former Earth colonists living in Utopian conditions throughout Space) have long eliminated all disease in their worlds, but their immune systems decayed as a result (the common cold can kill them), so they are downright paranoid when dealing with normal Earth people (who live in entirely different conditions) — forcing them to take thorough showers and burning all materials they come in contact with.
- In its sequel, The Naked Sun, an Earthman visits Solaria, a Spacer world. They build him a house and he learns that they'll destroy it after he leaves the planet. However, it is stated that disease is not the matter here — Solaria is considered fringe even by Spacer standards, and it is unthinkable for any of the planet's residents to tolerate another person in the same house.
- Aunt Penelope in The Bagthorpe Saga is so terrified of germs that she insists on putting library books in the oven before she will let her children read them. On one occasion, she put books in the oven and forgot about them, burning them to a crisp.
- Germs, in general, aren't too worrying in A Brother's Price, but sexually transmitted diseases are cause for the greatest concern. They are why remaining a virgin is such a big deal for young men and why cheating is seen as among the worst transgressions imaginable; this world's fear of STDs combined with the rarity of men and womens' interest in abducting them is the reason why men's lives are so limited.
- In Sara Pennypacker's Clémentine chapter books, Clementine's best friend, Margaret, uses sanitizing wipes to clean her packs of sanitizing wipes and regularly cleans stuff she hasn't been given permission to clean, like outside sculptures in public parks.
- In The Goldfish Boy, the obsessive part of Matthew's OCD is a terror that he'll become sick, infect someone else, and kill them. Compulsions include washing his hands until they bleed, wearing latex gloves all the time, and obsessively cleaning everything in his bedroom and the bathroom. It gets so bad that he's basically housebound for weeks.
- The Priest-Kings of Gor are so scared of germs that they made themselves immune to all sickness, eradicated every germ that could possibly harm them, moved to another planet, and require outsiders to wash in antibacterial bleach several times a day and still won't touch anyone.
- In Judy Blume's Iggie's House, Dorothy Landon is so terrified of her daughter Clarice touching, eating, or drinking anything that isn't hers, that Winnie Barringer often refers to the mother as Germs, Inc.
- In the Junie B. Jones books, Sheldon Potts, to the point where he puts a paper bag over his head until Mr. Scary tells him that not only will this not help, but is actually likely to just concentrate the germs.
- In The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds Ngozi, one of Stephen's "aspects" is so afraid of germs that she would prefer to go outside in a hazmat suit, if possible.
- George Sorenson from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He's constantly washing his hands until the skin is raw, but is such a germophobe he won't use soap. After the fishing trip and the participants are forced to take a special shower to be deloused, George has a meltdown.
- In Peter Pays Tribute, Matt brings a bottle of Febreeze with him to movie theaters. He also refuses to eat fast food, sit on public benches, and generally make contact with other people.
- Dr. Lisa Babitz in Star Trek: Vanguard. At least as a doctor, she can fight on the front lines against them...
- In The Temp, the Temp has a boss called Graham, who wipes everything down in his office with sterile wipes, including his fingers after he's handled a piece of paper. Being with him all day, the Temp starts taking on his personality.
- Wayward Children: Jack the apprentice Mad Scientist wears gloves all the time and puts her girlfriend through a full decontamination regimen before going to bed with her. She's not bothered by dirt or mess in general, only anything to do with bodies, and is fully aware that it's an expression of her OCD.
- The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon Cooper showers multiple times a day and constantly washes his hands.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Mayor Richard Wilkins of Sunnydale. Even after he becomes invincible. At first, this seems to be setting up a Chekhov's Gun that can be used to defeat him, but the only idea anyone can think of is to scare off the Mayor with a box marked EBOLA.
- Fawlty Towers: In The Hotel Inspectors, the fussy guest Mr. Hutchison asks Basil to book a taxi for him, rather than booking it himself, because he never uses the telephone if he can avoid it: risk of infection. When he later receives a call, he complains that the earpiece was very greasy, and he has wiped it out.
- Glee: Emma Pillsbury cleans grapes individually.
- Marissa Benson, Freddie's freakishly protective mother. She's been known to soak flowers in bleach…
- Recurring antagonist Nevel Papperman is shown to be this, especially in his first appearance.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Frank in the episode "The Gang Gets Quarantined" becomes obsessed with cleanliness after the flu breaks out around the city to the point where he believes that everyone else is infected, shaves off all of his hair and ends up covering himself in hand sanitizer. In most other episodes, Frank is completely filthy.
- Kenan & Kel: Chris acts as this in the episode where the latter character gets a cold.
- Millennium (1996): Peter Watts' daughter was kidnapped by a veteran of the first Gulf War, played by James Marsters. His experiences in the Mideast had left him so germ-phobic that he habitually wore a HazMat suit.
- Monk's eponymous character, Adrian Monk, to the extent that he uses wipes every time he shakes hands with someone, and gets highly distressed (well, more than usual, anyway) if somehow prevented from doing so.
- MythBusters: Kari Byron is a germophobe, as revealed in a set of experiments regarding passing around cold germs. She was placed in a test group instructed to avoid catching Adam's fake cold by any means possible, and by the end of that round, she was the only one who had succeeded.
- NCIS: Nikki Jardine, a minor character that's only been seen three times in the series. She shows a good deal of competency as an agent regardless.
- Seinfeld: Jerry has some obsessive tendencies, including a fear of germs. David Puddy also describes himself as a "recovering germophobe". There's also Elaine's co-worker Peggy, who believes that Elaine is full of germs because she is always around men.
- The Boys: Mother's Milk suffers from OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).
- The Suite Life on Deck: Cody Martin developed such an aversion in the latter half of the series.
- One young man on Untold Stories of the E.R. was so terrified of germs that he attempted to walk out and go home with a collapsed lung. The ER doctor calls his father in to talk the patient into accepting a life-saving chest tube procedure, but the father turns out to be a germophobe too...
- Young Sheldon:
- In the pilot, Sheldon wears mittens when holding hands to say grace. In the end, he mentions that he never touched his brother's hand until the invention of Purell.
- In "A Sneeze, Detention, and Sissy Spacek", Sheldon takes extreme measures to avoid getting sick during flu season, including running out of class (and later detention) without permission.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Germs" (A style parody of Nine Inch Nails) is about this.
- In TeraBrite's Song Parody "Toothbrush," she refers to herself as a germophobe.
- Fraggle Rock: Boober constantly obsesses over his fear and dislike of germs, and constantly worries and warns others about disease and death. He even has a song about it!
You know their name is contagious.
Their number's outrageous.
They're wriggling and raging like worms.
And it wiggles and squirms.
I'm talkin' 'bout germs!
- Dorsel in John Tartaglia's Imaginocean is this. When he and his friends first realize that an audience is watching them, mostly kids, he worries that they're "germ carriers." When a treasure map appears, he has to read it for the group because he's the only fish of the three that can read human language, but he's worried that the map, is infested with germs. Later, as they perform the play's opening song number, "On Our Way":
Dorsel: Who knows what we will find out there? There's danger waiting everywhere. And all those germs give quite a fright to me.
Bubbles: There's an ocean filled with nothing but an adventure.
Tank: And coral.
Dorsel: And germs.
- Flush Force has the character Monstrous Maggot. Despite being a maggot living in a garbage dump, he's ridiculously fussy, terrified of the filth of it.
Monstrous Maggot: Eew, but it doesn't look very sanitary! What if we were to catch something?
Rank Raccoon: I don't know if you've looked in a mirror lately, but you're a maggot. You live in garbage!
Monstrous Maggot: Perhaps, but I prefer my garbage clean and tidy.
- The Transformers: G1 Triggercon Windsweeper is described as being a complete germophobe, despite the fact that as a giant alien robot, bacteria can't really do anything to him. He's compulsive about keeping things clean on Cybertron and hates being on any other planet that's crawling with disgusting organic life.
- Bungo to Alchemist: This may as well be the defining characteristic of Izumi Kyōka. He's germophobic to the point where he always wears gloves, reheats food that's already cooked before eating, and even then refuses to eat the parts his hands have touched, even though he wears gloves.
- Call of Duty: Zombies has Marlton, of Victis. Unfortunately for him, a Zombie Apocalypse isn’t exactly the cleanest.
- In God of War (PS4), Sindri is a dwarven blacksmith with a deep fear of germs and anything he deems filthy, such as Kratos' blood-covered axe. He states that he used to be just as unhygienic as the next dwarf until a witch taught him about the concept of germs and viral infections, which led to him becoming a severe germophobe.
- Idol Manager: Gameplay-wise, the drawback of idols with the "Hypochondriac" trait is that they lose twice the stamina during handshake events. Their introductory dialog has them looking for misplaced hand wipes.
- The great wizard Jarlsberg in Kingdom of Loathing. During an Avatar of Jarlsberg run, player characters can't eat or drink anything they didn't conjure themselves (the only way to be sure it's clean) and can't use basic attacks (those enemies might be covered in germs). His Monster Manuel entry says he developed severe germaphobia after he got deathly ill after being sneezed on by an elephant as a child.
- Nick during The Passing in Left 4 Dead 2. In the first safe room, he may show his fear of germs by saying he has the right to be afraid since a germ wiped out the planet and turned everyone into zombies. Rochelle teases him about this when he asks for some hand sanitizer. In the same area, later on, Nick makes several complaints about going through a sewer, ranging from wanting a piggyback ride to avoid the dirty water to trying to reassure himself that it's only a storm sewer.
- Legacy of a Thousand Suns: One germophobe celebrity shot another celebrity with an uzi live during his awards ceremony for touching his hand, and then spent billions on a germ-free house that shoots trespassers and friendly bystanders on sight. The joke's on him when all the paranoid combat causes two unfortunate reporters to hack into his personal android as she slices them up, and the malfunction ("Must Insert Germ Free Food" loop) causes her to suffocate her boss with his own germ-free birthday cake!
- The quarians of the Mass Effect games are an entire race of these — justified because their immune systems are so weak that they must wear specially designed enviro-suits all the time and take vaccines and immuno-boosters to ward off disease. Even in clean environments, they prefer the safety of their suits and are reluctant to remove them without a good reason. It is a gesture of trust and intimacy amongst quarians to hook one's own suit environment to another's, even though doing so can make both of them very sick. Though after one did so, she claimed the sickness she got was well worth it.
- In The Sims 4, Sims with the Squeamish trait (available with the Outdoor Retreat game pack) become this, feeling uncomfortable with "unclean" surroundings such as messes and mounted fish.
- Frank, of all people, in Dead Winter. A psychotic juggernaut in all other respects, he mentions being a germophobe when the zombies appear, and later on, it turns out hitting him in the face with a dirty mop makes him completely lose it.
- In El Goonish Shive, Susan is a relatively mild version of this. She is generally uncomfortable touching things many others have potentially touched and touching other people. In a later comic, she describes it as what sounds like OCD: she may be rationally aware that there is no meaningful risk of infection, but her subconscious keeps throwing up alarms until she washes her hands or changes clothes or otherwise satisfies the compulsion.
- Questionable Content: Hannelore Ellicott-Chatham. This seems to be the core of her OCD.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: When the Rash, the disease that caused The End of the World as We Know It ninety years ago is still around and a threat to anyone who isn't The Immune, one can't blame Iceland for putting the personnel of returning merchant ships in quarantine and the capital of Sweden for putting new arrivals through a Decontamination Chamber. Reynir is still this by that world's standards, as his parents greatly exaggerated the circumstances in which he could get sick. This came to light when he became a stowaway to a crew exploring a Forbidden Zone ridden with potential disease vectors and The Medic had to use a variant of "no Reynir, that will not make you catch the Rash" on two separate occasions (granted that the second time, a Plague Zombie had bruised Reynir's arm and an actual scratch would have been a problem).
- Schtein in String Theory (2009) is severely mysophobic and wears gloves all the time except when he's eating.
- Buster becomes afraid of germs in a season 11 episode of Arthur titled "Germophobia", doing a complete 180 from his slobby personality after having a nightmare about Monstrous Germs, even wearing a gas mask to a pool party. At the end of the episode, he learns An Aesop about staying hygienic without becoming obsessive.
- The appropriately-named henchman "Germs" in the Batman: The Animated Series two-parter "Feat of Clay". He opens doors using a handkerchief and is visibly squicked at going to a hospital. Batman exploits this entertainingly when interrogating him, threatening him with a jar he claims contains an incurable disease. Clayface leaves him practically catatonic after binding and gagging the little creep with some of his clay body.
- Louise's classmate Jodi on Bob's Burgers is an extreme example. She refuses to even sit down on any kind of chair or seat, holding herself in the air if she has to. When Linda throws Louise an unwanted slumber party, she scares Jodi away by telling her that Linda has "sewer palm", "strep thumb", and her "whooping butt is in remission". In another episode, Louise threatens Jodi by holding her glasses over a toilet. When Tina stops her and cleans the glasses with her breath and shirt, Jodi runs out screaming.
- In Daft Planet, Hudson becomes this in "Snitchy and the Phobe" from having to go into so many restaurant kitchens where the chefs have absolutely no regard for the health and safety of their customers. It culminates in him getting glasses that let him see the germs around him and then coming to in a hospital bed watching a video about the dangers of over-cleanliness. And then he sees Ched's video of what goes into making the parmigiana at a restaurant Hudson went to recently.
- Dexter's Mom from Dexter's Laboratory which is the reason why she almost always wears a pair of gloves. One episode has her freaking out after her gloves go missing. In a flashback to when she met Dad, she was grossed out at how messy and dirty he was and constantly washed her hands after shaking hands with him. The solution to her problem with her fear of germs was the gloves.
- Dexter himself demonstrates fearful behavior when it comes to germs. In the episode "Germ Warfare," all of his family members get sick with the flu, so Dexter hides out in his lab and puts himself in a plastic bubble.
- From Ed, Edd n Eddy:
- Edd; he puts on plastic gloves and a surgeon's mask when taking care of a sick Sarah. And when he catches her cold anyway, he claims that bacteria strike the instant one's guard is down. Germs are also his first complaint when forced into a bathroom vent. When he gets hit with Ed's lucky cheese Sheldon, he crumbles into ash.
- Jimmy, who is already similar to Edd in many ways, is implied to be this, too. It normally doesn't show, but he has complained of germs every time he came in contact with saliva.
- Hector Con Carne from Evil Con Carne. This is justified in that he is a Brain in a Jar, and thus exposure to germs would be lethal to him.
- In the Invader Zim episode "Germs," Zim watches a War of the Worlds-esque movie and spends the episode freaking out about germs.
- Worry Bear in Julius Jr. demonstrates this when he finds out that his friend Clancy has the cold in one episode. He quickly provides everyone near him with a box of tissue and a hand sanitizer, then proceeds to pull a gargantuan bottle of hand sanitizer out of hammerspace for himself.
- Hubie and Bertie use this to their advantage when Claude Cat has an acute fear of being contaminated with germs in the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Hypochondri-cat."
- Mr. Fussy in The Mr. Men Show. Played for laughs because he lives next door to Mr. Messy.
- Gus on Disney's Recess develops this phobia in one episode, and eventually attempts to have the whole playground sanitized.
- In the Rugrats episode "Mr. Clean", the already-fearful Chuckie becomes terrified of germs after hearing multiple warnings about them from his dad. He makes his own "germ suit" to protect himself and tries to keep the other babies from playing so they'd stay clean, but then he gets stuck in a bush. Tommy, realising that the only way to get out is to take the suit off, uses logic to point out that they all played without suits before and nothing bad happened.
Chuckie: And you said nothing bad was gonna happen!
- In The Simpsons episode "$pringfield" Mr. Burns gets this as he descends into a Howard Hughes parody.
Germs: FREEMASONS RUN THE COUNTRY!
- Played With in the South Park episode "Turd Burglars," where Kyle's mysophobia is also part existential crisis—a video he watched says that your microbiome makes up half of the cells in your body, so does that mean that half of you isn't even really you? He gets over this when his microbiome takes control of him and helps him save half of the town from a deadly illness.
- Amelia Earhart in Time Squad.
- Dave from Total Drama.
- Howie Mandel. This is why he never shakes hands-on Deal or No Deal or America's Got Talent and is apparently the reason he shaves his head.
- Howard Hughes was famous for this. It eventually became so bad that he would only touch anything with tissues.
- Meiji novelist Kyōka Izumi, known for asking people to cook even sashimi, never eating fruit, and always carrying disinfectant. Almost all iterations of him in fiction would portray him with this as the forefront trait.
- Marc Summers. That the man hosted freaking Double Dare for seven years and What Would You Do? for two is a testament to his willpower. And unlike Mandel, he was not afraid of shaking hands with contestants and even allowed himself to get slimed and messy on more than one occasion, although he DID admit being on pretty heavy meds during the show's run to help him with it and a relief when both shows went off the air. Yet to this day, he's still very approachable and open with handshakes and hugs.
- Anyone who has ever taken microbiology will tell you that the majority of students in the class become paranoid about germs. Many overcome it a few weeks into the semester, but others don't. And heaven helps you if you ever take a class on epidemiology. That semester will basically be Paranoia Fuel: The University Course.