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Shoes: New Airport Health Hazard

Taking your shoes off at airport security checkpoints exposes your feet to fungus and injury.

Athlete's Foot and More

You may not want to think about what you just walked through. But Calis does. And one of the things he thinks about is fungus -- the highly contagious kind that causes the cracked and itchy foot infection we call athlete's foot.

"Athlete's foot infections must be rampant," he says. "The floor is often dirty where all those people walk through security. And it doesn't get any sun. I haven't taken any samples from these areas, but if we do I bet we'll find 101 different things."

Unpleasant things, agrees Kathleen M. Stone, DPM, trustee for the American Podiatric Medical Association and a private-practice podiatrist in Glendale, Ariz.

"I've been flying a lot -- and my experience all summer was that individual airports are still making you take off your shoes," Stone tells WebMD. "Probably the only way you can combat the fact you are walking on a filthy floor is to keep a pair of socks on."

Stone notes that late summer is a time when lots of people have foot fungi. She suspects that athlete's foot is rampant on airport floors, but she notes that it's hard to tell where a person actually got it. To date, there haven't been any studies.

"Athlete's foot is not the only issue," Calis says. "Think of all the things that fall off people's shoes. Also, there might be small tacks or sharp pebbles that could cut you -- and if you have an opening in the skin, that is asking for infection. Even a sock won't protect your foot. If you do step on a tack, then we're talking about having to get a tetanus shot, and possible staph or pseudomonas infections."

Not everybody who walks through an airport has been walking on air.

"You never know where people's shoes have been," Calis says. "If someone who's been on a farm walks through the airport, you'll have fecal matter, too."

And not everybody who takes off their shoes should do so.

"People with diabetic feet, some have a loss of protective feeling," Calis notes. "We podiatrists tell them never to walk around barefoot. They may step on something and not know it's there. That would be a great concern of mine if I were diabetic."

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