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Germs Are Everywhere -- Really

As you hit the road for summer travel, get in touch with those unsuspected surfaces that are breeding grounds for illness.

The Germ-Friendly Skies?

But what is the single germiest place posing the biggest risk of a hand-transmitted illness?


"I might have to go with airline bathrooms," says Gerba. "Before 9/11, I used to sample airplane bathrooms a lot, and I always found E. coli traces -- usually on the faucets and nearly 100% of the time on the door handles."


The reason: "About 50 people per flight use a toilet and if you ever tried to wash your hands in that tiny sink, you'll know it's pretty hard," he says. "To make matters worse, airplane bathrooms are rarely disinfected between flights."


Don't expect that holding it in will protect you.


"Studies show there are more germs in the air inside an airplane during daytime flights than during nighttime flights," says Jong, author of The Travel and Tropical Medicine Handbook and clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Washington Medical School.


"When people walk in the aisles of a plane, it kicks up a lot of dust. Conversely, during red eye and nighttime flights, particle count goes down because there is less activity." Other germ-ridden surfaces on planes: the tray counters, seat armrests, and even magazines.

Portable Protection

That's why she and Gerba suggest that no matter what your travel destination is this summer, you should pack plenty of soap, alcohol swabs, or easy-to-use gel sanitizers.


"And use them," Jong tells WebMD. "You should wash your hands frequently and always before you prepare to eat food or touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. Personally, when I'm on a plane, I wipe the area around my seat with a gel sanitizer when I board, and also use them on my hands after I touch a strange surface. Keeping your hands clean is the best way to avoid becoming sick from these kinds of germs."


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