Scientists have discovered the places most likely to teem with bacteria when passing through an airport terminal or traveling by air.
Airplanes have long been suspected to be major breeding grounds for bacteria, because they represent a confined place, where the air isn’t fresh but recirculated instead, and where hundreds of people are kept crammed together.
A microbiologist employed by the Travelmath.com website conducted a study to find out exactly which surfaces posed the greatest threat to the passengers’ immune systems.
The experiment consisted in analyzing 26 samples, from 5 American airports and 4 flights operated by 2 major aircraft carriers. The names of the airline holding companies included in the study were not revealed to the public.
Based on the findings, it was concluded that planes and airport terminals are much more infested with bacteria than average American homes.
From the surfaces included in the analysis, the plastic tray table on which meals are served was proven to be the most unhygienic. According to measurements, approximately 2,155 colony-forming units (CFUs) of bacteria linger on each square inch of these trays. They are much dirtier than home countertops (361 CFUs) or toilet seats (172 CFUs).
A possible explanation for them being so insalubrious could be that there isn’t enough time between flights for airplane staff to clean them properly. They are scrubbed thoroughly just twice a day, while plane trips are much more frequent.
As a result, it is recommended to eliminate completely any direct contact between the food and the table, in order to prevent a potential contamination of your own mouth.
Buttons which passengers press in airports so that they can drink from water fountains have been discovered to be the second dirtiest places, having a population of around 1,240 bacteria per square inch.
Objects such as the overhead air vents, the lavatory flash buttons and the seat belt buckles all had more than 200 CFUs, while the bathroom stall locks were a breeding ground for approximately 70CFUs of bacteria per square inch.
It is not necessarily surprising that washrooms have a lower density of bacteria, since they are cleaned much more frequently than other areas.
The comforting thought that air travels should keep in mind however is that of the 26 samples analyzed by the microbiologist, none contained fecal coliforms such as E.coli, which are highly infectious. However, passengers are still advised to use hand sanitizer after touching contaminated surfaces.
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