It’s always stressful to travel during the holidays. But COVID-19 takes the anxiety to a whole new level.
Anybody who does much air travel knows that it’s easy to pick up a cold or the flu while flying. And now we’ve added COVID to the equation.
One study found that 20% of air travelers report respiratory illnesses within a week of taking a plane flight.i
But if you knew the location of germ hotspots, you might be able to protect yourself. That was the goal of researchers at the University of Nottingham in England.
They did extensive testing to find out where pathogens were hiding in airports.
The Most Germ-Infested Spot in the Airport
You might think it is the bathrooms. Or those crowded waiting areas. Or maybe touchscreens or door handles.
But it’s none of those.
Scientists took swab samples from various surfaces at busy Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland. They took samples every week for three months.ii
The researchers found that airports are not as germ-infested as you might think. Only about 10% of surfaces tested contained disease-causing viruses.
The germiest spots by far were the plastic trays at the security conveyor where you put your things to be X-rayed. Half of them tested positive for respiratory viruses.
When you think about it, this makes sense.
Passengers are emptying the contents of their pockets into these trays. They include items that would be highly contaminated with their germs, like handkerchiefs or tissues.
Shoes also go into these trays. That means germs that were on the floor end up in the trays.
The next most contaminated surfaces were the countertops at the passport checkpoints. A third of the countertops tested positive.
Handrails of stairs, walkways, and escalators came in third. About 14% contained viruses.
Surprisingly, airport toilets contained few germs. Researchers said this was because they are cleaned regularly. Touchscreens at check-in kiosks and waiting area seats also registered negligible contamination.
To protect passengers against the germs in security trays, researchers recommended that airports provide “hand sanitization opportunities… immediately before and after security screening.”
The scientists noted that the trays are rarely, if ever, cleaned. They suggested they be sanitized regularly.iii
The study was recently published in the journal BioMed Central Infectious Diseases.
Simple Way to Protect Yourself from Airport Germs
Bring hand sanitizer with you when you travel. Use it after you touch any surface you believe may hold germs…but especially after you go through security.
We recommend alcohol-based sanitizers that contains at least 70% alcohol. It will kill even drug-resistant superbugs. One popular sanitizer brand, Purell Advanced, is 70% alcohol.
Keep a small bottle of sanitizer in your purse or carry-on luggage. Just make sure it contains no more than 3.4 ounces.
Any amount above that won’t get through security. Most small bottles of sanitizer are one to two ounces.iv
Catching the flu or a cold is always a risk when a you travel for the holidays. But COVID makes it more hazardous than ever.
Being aware where germs lurk can help you arrive home healthy.
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