In the first of a series, Donna Duberg examines hygiene and infection prevention while traveling. This installment examines airport hygiene and how travelers can defend against health risks.

Whether your next trip is for business or pleasure, one thing is for sure: airport traffic will escalate over the next couple of months with travelers taking off for the holidays. That means our exposure to germs and infectious diseases will increase significantly as we navigate those busy airports.
Airports and other high traffic areas make it easier for cross-contamination to occur and easier for germs to spread between people. Remember the movie Contagion? The airport was a key hotspot for spreading the virus.

Here are 4 tips to stay healthy in the airport:

  • Always keep a small bottle of sanitizer with you. The sanitizer should be alcohol-based and contain at least 60 percent alcohol to truly be effective. Also, don’t forget airport policy on liquids. The Transportation Security Administration will only allow liquids in a 3.4 ounce bottle (100 ml) or less — you don’t want your sanitizer taken away at security.
  • Be wary of ill passengers. Flu season will be underway during the holidays so be prepared to encounter sick people at the airport. Try to keep your distance from passengers who appear ill or consider wearing a mask to reduce risk.  If you think you’ve come into contact with anyone or anything that has been contaminated, wash your hands immediately.
  • Persistently wash and sanitize your hands. It’s impossible to avoid touching objects that have been contaminated since there are so many contact surfaces at airports. Try to keep from touching your face as you move through security and once you’ve reached your destination, wash your hands with warm water and soap. Remember that effective handwashing lasts approximately 20 seconds with soap and lather. Hands should be wiped thoroughly with a paper towel. If soap and water are not available, be sure to use hand sanitizer.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Bring sanitizing wipes to wipe down chairs, tables and door handles you encounter on your trip. Also, take necessary precautions when using airport restrooms. Avoid directly touching toilet seats and handles, sink faucets and the restroom door handle. Wash your hands thoroughly after each restroom visit. Airports are swarming with bacteria so it’s your responsibility to be on the defensive.

Want to know which airports are most likely to spread a disease if an outbreak were to occur? Read about it here.

About Donna Duberg

Donna Duberg, an expert in hygiene and an authority on disease prevention, is an assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. She has been lauded as a credible media source both nationally and in St. Louis, where she makes recurring appearances as the “St. Louis Germ Expert” on local FOX newscasts. Duberg believes that proper hand sanitation techniques combined with a consistent cleaning regimen can go a long way to halt the spread of germs and viruses, whether in the privacy of one’s home or in a public area.