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What to know before you go

Andrea Romano for Travel + Leisure  – December 11, 2018 | Updated January 15, 2019

Between the planes, the bathrooms, the waiting areas, the fast food tables and pretty much every other place in the airport, it can be difficult to avoid getting sick while traveling.

But with the rampant flu season striking and occurrences of passengers with measles passing through airports, it’s more important than ever to find ways of staying healthy.

Dr. Alison Galdy from the University of Minnesota Infection Prevention told Fox 9 that air travel is a huge factor when it comes to spreading infectious disease.

“Certainly airport travel really accentuated and probably accelerated the spread of that novel in 2009, H1N1 Virus,” Dr. Galdy said.

So how do we keep ourselves and the people around us safe and healthy while traveling? The best way is to avoid airport “virus hot zones,” Fox 9 reported.

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Hot zones are described by Fox 9 as frequently touched places like toilet handles, armrests on chairs, kiosk screens and handrails. However, the highest risk place is in those plastic bins that you’re required to use during security screening.

A source for Fox 9 said that travelers “dump everything from dentures, inhalers, toothbrushes, dirty shoes, to children’s pacifiers and diaper bags into those bins on a regular basis. Rarely, if ever, are the trays cleaned.”

According to the CDC, the flu virus can “live” on some surfaces for “up to 48 hours.” The Mayo Clinic says that surfaces like stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces (like surfaces you find at the TSA checkpoint) allow the virus to stay alive longer, and therefore more likely to be picked up and transferred by travelers. And while “cold and flu viruses generally last less than a few minutes” on skin, according to the New York Times, “that can be plenty of time,” for transmission to other surfaces and people.

A spokesperson for the TSA declined to comment to Fox 9 as to why the bins are not regularly cleaned, but that “passengers concerned with cleanliness should travel with hand sanitizer and consider washing their hands after going through security.”

In addition, travelers should watch how often they touch their face, as this can also quickly spread germs. According to Fox 9, people can touch their face “subconsciously as often as three to five times an hour.”

Next time you fly, keep your health in mind. And don’t forget to wash your hands.