Airports and Bacteria
As spring break approaches, many are preparing the details of their itinerary for their spring vacation trip. Many are traveling by airplane, which can be difficult, especially with small children. But many would (understandably) rather fly in a metal can (an airplane) for three hours then drive in their car for twelve. Flying to your vacation destination has many perks, saving times but one of them, but the risk of illness being lower isn’t one of them.
Germs are everywhere – kitchens, bathrooms, random surfaces, even in the air! In airports, if a poll was taken, most people would logically vote that the highest concentration of germs lay in the public bathrooms. But a study by BMC Infectious Diseases proved that this wasn’t the case. The surfaces passengers have to be most wary of are ones that appear innocuous – security bins, handrails, the children’s playground, luggage trays, and more!
According to the study, “Nucleic acid of at least one respiratory virus was detected in 9 out of 90 (10%) surface samples, including a plastic toy dog in the children’s playground (2/3 swabs, 67%); hand-carried luggage trays at the security check area (4/8, 50%); the buttons of the payment terminal at the pharmacy (1/2, 50%); the handrails of stairs (1/7, 14%); and the passenger side desk and divider glass at a passport control point (1/3, 33%). Among the 10 respiratory virus findings at various sites, the viruses identified were: rhinovirus (4/10, 40%, from surfaces); coronavirus (3/10, 30%, from surfaces); adenovirus (2/10, 20%, 1 air sample, 1 surface sample); influenza A (1/10, 10%, surface sample).”
In other words, approximately 40% of surfaces tested contained at least one disease-causing viral pathogens, and the most frequently discovered viruses were rhinovirus, coronavirus, and adenovirus. At the conclusion of this study, scientists learned an ironic fact: airport toilet seats contain the least amount of “disease-causing viruses and microbes”, according to UW Medicine. This is mostly because people are so concerned about the bathrooms being dirty and catching something that it is in the restrooms that they are most conscientious about washing their hands. The surfaces that wound up being the most contaminated were also the ones that are, most of the time, simply unavoidable. Surfaces such as, “the plastic trays where we put our shoes, electronics, and other items at the security checkpoints” are the most dangerous, according to Healthline.
In order to do their best in avoiding these pathogens, there are some essential tips a person can follow in order to attempt to prevent illness. The first is to wash your hands and wash them often and thoroughly (especially after going through security!). Another is to use antibacterial wipes on all surfaces you use, such as armrests, tray tables, countertops/tables at restaurants, etc. The third and final is always to receive the annual flu vaccine. The flu is another common virus that lives in airports, and is very unpleasant to deal with- especially on vacation!
At the end of the day, chances are everyone who goes through the airport will pick up some kind of germ, good or bad, and needs to do their best to stay safe. This article isn’t meant to scare you, as many germs you pick up won’t hurt or affect you. Some may even help you! Either way, it is still important to wash your hands and be conscientious of your surroundings.