Air travel is not the most sanitary experience: Super-tight seating arrangements force hordes of humans with all types of coughs, colds and questionable hygiene habits into one tiny space to share air, armrests and all the germs that come with travel.
Studies have found nasty germs -- from E. coli that causes severe diarrhea to MRSA bacteria that's resistant to many antibiotics -- in all sorts of places on a plane, where they can live for days at a time. That's bad news, especially if your flight attendant fails to clean tray tables.
Nothing is completely avoidable, this we know. But we recommend you try not to touch the following:
1. The armrests
When researchers applied a virulent strain of E. coli to airplane armrests, the nasty bacteria stayed there for a whopping 96 hours -- longer than it lasted on both tray tables and toilet flushers. While you can't get infected with E. coli just from touching it, you definitely don't want to rub your hands all over the armrest: If you happen to touch a sickness-causing strain of E. coli and then rub your eyes or touch your mouth, you do risk infection.
2. The tray tables
When researchers from the University of Arizona swabbed them during a 2007 study, four out of six tray tables tested positive for MRSA and noroviruses -- a bevy of nasty, germs that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. What's worse, many flight attendants say they only wash tray tables about once per day. Make sure there's a barrier between your food and the tray table, and wash your hands before eating, says Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, a travel medicine expert with the Centers for Disease Control. "The important thing is to protect yourself as much as possible," she told The Huffington Post.
3. The lavatory's inside door handle
Dr. Michael Zimring, author of Healthy Travel, told HuffPost that the issue here is disgustingly obvious: "People on the plane need to go to the bathroom. So they touch all the seat tops as they walk down the aisle. Then they use the bathroom, don't wash their hands, and walk out the door." Zimring recommends using a paper towel to open the lavatory door, instead.
4. The toilet flush button
This nasty dude proved to be a safe harbor for E. coli for 48 hours -- that's how long the bacteria lasted after researchers applied it to the surface. Remember: you can't get an infection just from touching E. coli. But to minimize contact with all germs, it's best to cover your hand with a paper towel before flushing.
5. The lavatory faucet handles
Yup, E. coli is a concern here too: About 30 percent of faucet handles were found to carry the bacteria in the aforementioned 2007 study. Use your elbow to turn on the faucet, instead.
6. The blankets
Various flight attendants confirm that those blankets are often placed fresh on the plane every morning, but re-folded and re-used on every other flight for the rest of the day. Want to escape all this germ talk? We recommend hiding inside an Ostrich Pillow, instead of under an airplane blanket.
7. The toilet seat
Twenty percent of toilet seats had E. coli on them when swabbed by scientists. But that's beside the point: We don't advise touching a toilet seat with your hands anywhere. Ever.
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