They Come From Surprising Places, But Can Be Avoided With Preparation

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Someone usually tells you to “pack your patience” when you fly during the holidays. But what you should be doing is packing hand sanitizer.

An investigation uncovered some unwelcome travel companions and how you can avoid getting sick, CBS 2’s Chris Wragge reported.

You’ve got your luggage, your water, your boarding pass … and your proteus vulgaris, agro-bacterium, serratia, and even enterobacter.

Those big words are bacteria found breeding on planes.

Ten surfaces on two different flights were swabbed during the investigation.

“We found roughly 3,000 bacteria on this plate,” microbiologist Karen Deiss said.

Deiss showed images from the inside of the lavatory door handle.

“The door was kind of filthy,” she said.

And then there was the seat tray.

“That’s klebsiella,” Deiss said.

Klebsiella is a stringy bacterium that was picked up off a tray table.

“It’s really gross looking on the plate,” Deiss said.

But the “grossest” of all came from inside the seat pocket.

“A lot of these bacteria that live in our gut ended up pretty concentrated on the backseat of the chair,” Deiss said.

Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona is known as “Dr. Germ.” He said the findings suggest airplanes are not cleaned thoroughly enough.

But Dr. Cedric Spak, an infectious disease doctor at Baylor Health, said don’t panic, even though it all sounds “sick.”

“Some of the bacteria that I’ve looked at here are consistent with what we found in urine or stool in normal people,” Dr. Spak said.

He explained how something that might be found in a bathroom could end up near seats.

“It is all the same type of bacteria that lives down under the belly button. I don’t want someone to think I’ve got feces all over my front side, but that bacteria is there and that bacteria is found in some of these reports which means someone was scratching their belly button and then scratching their tray table,” Dr. Spak said.

Spak said it’s all pretty normal, adding viruses can transmit from solid surfaces, but they won’t live on places like magazines or tray tables for long. And, the bacteria found in the swab tests will only cause infection in people who are already sick. Spak’s advice for the average, healthy flyer is to “wash your hands and don’t worry” about what you’re touching.

“The plane itself is not what’s going to put you at risk. It’s all the people around you,” Dr. Spak said.

To stay healthy, Dr. Gerba recommends traveling with hand sanitizer, drinking plenty of water and keeping nasal passages moist with saline spray. You can also use the air vent above your seat to blow away germs.

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