Germs linger on surfaces — the ﬂu virus for a few hours and the cold virus for eight to 12 hours, while the norovirus can endure for 28 days. Frequent travelers on planes, for whom public-restroom use comes with the territory, have limited control over those environments. Which surfaces are the most germy? And how can you reduce your risk of getting sick?
WHAT TO DO
It’s more than a matter of frequent hand-washing. An article in last month’s issue of The Costco Connection dishes the dirt:
You may have been told that door handles are primary germ carriers, but University of Arizona microbiology professor Charles P. Gerba says that’s not the case. Also surprising: The toilet seat is often the cleanest surface in the washroom. The primary offender is the ﬂoor, along with the tops and sides of stall doors. And according to a study from the Journal of Applied Microbiology, jet dryers are bigger germ spreaders than paper towels, spraying some viruses almost 10 feet.
Best advice: Avoid setting bags on the ﬂoor where they can pick up germs and transfer them to other surfaces, use the door latch to open and close stall doors, and wipe your hands with paper towels (when available) instead of using the jet dryer.
Given their small size, it’s difficult to wash your hands well in an airplane lavatory. And the tray tables are a germaphobe’s nightmare. Gerba tells The Costco Connection that ﬂu, norovirus, and MRSA have been found on tray tables, which often don’t get cleaned between ﬂights. Then there are those passengers coughing and sneezing next to you. They only need to be within six feet of you for their droplets to make contact.
Best advice: Carry your own hand sanitizer to use in the lavatory, as well as disinfecting wipes for the tray table. As far as guarding against your germ-carrying neighbors, women seem to have a sartorial advantage: Wearing a scarf can protect against those ﬂying droplets. “Germ Guy” Jason Tetro — author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files — says that studies have found scarves are 60 to 90 percent as effective as hospital masks. Bury your nose in your scarf for 30 seconds when you hear nearby passengers hacking and sneezing. (Related personal note: On a recent overseas ﬂight, my scarf, lightly misted with perfume, saved me from my snoring seatmate’s halitosis.)