A Nation Of Germophobes?


Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist takes a look at the lengths that some people go through to make the world more germ-free.

There was a time when touching was good, but today touching anyone or anything seems to be regarded a health risk.

We're awash these days in all manner of anti-bacterials, antiseptics and disinfectants.

There is Germ X, Germ Zapper, Germ Blaster. You can get yourself a disinfecting wand, or a personal air purifier to wear around your neck.

It seems we're fast becoming a nation of germophobes. The danger is everywhere, we're told, in a world seething with microbes. Planes are seen as tin test tubes teeming with bacteria.

There are pills to help you fight germs, attractive plane seat covers and a plane air filter for the overhead nozzle. Of course, these days you might be handcuffed and wrestled to the ground trying to install it.

Hotel rooms? They are veritable Petri dishes of pathogens (formerly known as cooties). And to the germophobe the public restroom is truly Death Valley.

But Richard Thorne of Kimberly Clarke says man is now within reach of the Holy Grail of hygiene: The touchless restroom.

"Yes, you've got the new Scott electronic touchless bathroom tissue dispenser there," Thorne said.

It starts with electronic flushing and toilet paper dispensing.

"And then what some people will do is they'll do the elbow push, they'll dispense the soap without touching the soap dispenser," Thorne said. "So your hands are now clean and you would walk over to the electronic hand towel dispenser."

So far so good, but how do you make a clean getaway?

"A number of people take another towel and actually use it to exit the restroom without touching the door handle," Thorne said.

The final hurdle is cleared with the new sanit-grasp door handle.

Inventor Simon Sassoon has a different exit strategy. His automatic deep cleaning system, called HYSO, sprays disinfectant on doorknobs every 15 minutes.

"I know it sounds corny, I had a dream and this unit as you see it was exactly in my mind," Sassoon said.

Of course, it's entirely possible we're all nuts when it comes to germs, but with the flu and cold season upon us it can't hurt to take a few precautions and arm ourselves with the latest weaponry in what appears to be our all-out war on germs, like Emily Beck's "excuse me" belt.

"This is the ultimate germ fighting machine because it creates a cubic yard of free personal space," Beck said. "So not only are you not touching anybody but no one's gonna come close to breathing on you."

If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, these are surely saints among us.