What should I do if I think that I can get hepatitis from my garbage can?

Yes, this is an irrational thought, but there are things you can do to challenge it.

First, look at this fear from a rational perspective: How many people do you know who have contracted hepatitis? Second, how many people have contracted any disease from a garbage can? Third, how many people have contracted hepatitis from a garbage can? Fourth, can you find a research article about the dangers of people contracting hepatitis from garbage cans? Fifth, why are you so afraid of hepatitis?

Let’s look at each of these questions and how they may be used in therapy. The first question is a question of probability, most of us do not know many, if any, people who have contracted hepatitis. And, for those that have been infected, many have recovered and have developed antibodies to fight future infections. That is not to say it is not a serious condition, it is, but this is a question of probability.

The second question looks at the source of the contamination to see how realistic the scenario is. Garbage cans may be dirty, but are not seen as huge sources of contamination in everyday life, or we would have seen major warnings on the news to never touch garbage cans. Also, trash collectors would be dying by the dozens.

The third question melds the first two together. If you do not know many people who have hepatitis, then chances are there are not many people with hepatitis using your garbage can. And, since the potential for getting an illness from a personal garbage can is low, then it stands to reason that the chance of getting hepatitis from your own garbage can is low. In fact, in order to get infected with hepatitis from your own garbage can, you would probably already have to be infected with hepatitis, otherwise, how could you really get it?

The fourth question gets to the realism of the fear, are there warnings out there to not touch your own garbage cans? The answer is no. If our own garbage cans were a source of hepatitis and touching them exposed us to hepatitis, then everyone who has ever taken out their own trash, much less anyone else’s, would have to be infected with hepatitis. Looking on the Centers for Disease Control website, there are no warnings about hepatitis outbreaks linked to garbage cans (www.cdc.gov).

The fifth question gets to the source of the fear, what is it about hepatitis that is so fear-inducing? You may know someone with it and may have seen that it was a very difficult experience for that person. Or you may see it as a disgusting disease and want to prevent it at all costs. Or maybe you think that people who contract it are disgusting, and you do not want to become what you think is so gross.

No matter what the reason, your thinking something about hepatitis does not mean that it is true. People who get hepatitis did not want to get it. Whereas some contract it because of unsafe behaviors, others get it even though they perform all of the proper safety behaviors. Some people do die of hepatitis, but many also recover and develop antibodies to it. There are two sides to look at when discussing this disease.

The best way to avoid hepatitis is to wash your hands before you prepare food and after going to the bathroom, to not use intravenous drugs, and to practice safe sex. These precautions will eliminate most of the risks of hepatitis contamination. Not touching your garbage can will just lead to garbage piling up and the unfortunate effects of that, such as the smell of rotting food, fruit flies, and vermin.