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High Germ Counts Found on Airport Check-In Kiosks
Print Article Contributed by BSM Staff

AUSTIN, TX -- More people are flying than ever and leaving their impressions on airport check-In kiosks along with their germs.

Last year may have been the safest year ever for commercial air travel, but, according to a new report from Insurancequotes, there are other dangers, travelers face. Germs are everywhere and unavoidable, but certain surfaces are clearly riskier than others. Self-check-in kiosks had the largest collection of bacteria most likely to make you sick.

Opting for the faster route may be logical if you’re short on time or just hate waiting in lines, but be cautious of the risk, warns the insurance provider. It recommends carrying sanitizer with you when traveling, or one of the millions of germs you come in contact with may have you exchanging vacation days for sick days.

Over holiday season, Insurancequotes conducted 18 tests across six surfaces from three major U.S. airports and airplanes. It found one self-check-in screen contained 253,857 CFU – over 13 times more than the average CFU of an airport water fountain button. One check-in screen recorded over 1 million CFU. In comparison, an average of only 172 CFU are found on toilet seats.

A CFU is the average number of viable bacteria and fungal cells per square inch.

Airports see a lot more traffic than airplanes; therefore, it makes sense the average CFU found in planes is a lot less. However, they’re still pretty high compared to most common household surfaces. Lavatory flush buttons were the dirtiest, with an average of 95,145 CFU.

It’s often thought airplanes are cleaned between each flight, but the FAA actually doesn’t regulate or inspect aircraft cleaning. Each airline can decide how often and how well an airplane is cleaned, so if the turnaround time between flights is low, the plane may not be cleaned at all. Even when a plane is cleaned, general cleaners are used rather than stronger disinfectants, leaving dangerous germs.

Not all germs and bacteria are harmful to humans, however. In fact, some bacteria are needed for our bodies to work properly, and not having enough is what can make us sick. These disease-fighting bacteria are usually gram-positive rods – helpful, probiotic bacteria.

Don’t let your guard down fully, though – they can also be pathogenic. They were most likely to be found on airport water fountain buttons, making up 59 percent of CFU.

Gram-positive cocci are from the same family of bacteria with a different cell shape but are far more dangerous. Many infections can stem from these bacteria, including pneumonia, skin, ear, and sinus infections, food poisoning, meningitis, bacteremia, and toxic shock syndrome. Gram-positive cocci were found on all surfaces tested in the airport and on the plane – the greatest percentages found on lavatory flush buttons (82 percent) and tray tables (65 percent).

One-third of the bacteria found on tray tables were bacillus – bacteria that cause food to spoil and some diseases in humans.

A bench armrest at an airport gate was the only place with a large collection of yeast – these fungi made up 40 percent of the CFU tested there. Luckily, yeast is a common fungus found on human skin and areas prone to moisture and are typically harmless. An accumulation of yeast can lead to infections but are unlikely to develop just leaning on an armrest.

The last germ screened for was also the most dangerous. Gram-negative rods cause infections that are most common in health care settings – pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis. On top of causing serious infections, these bacteria are resistant to multiple drugs and can even resist newer ones.





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