Tag Archive for: germs

The dirtiest place on a plane: The tray table

I got a lot of germs on this flight. Fail.

I got a lot of germs on this flight. Fail.

For generations, traveling parents have assumed the lavatory is the dirtiest part of a plane. But a study released this week offers ground-breaking new data: Nothing on an airplane is more germ-infested than the tray table.

The study, from an organization named Travelmath, gives us family travelers new reason to spaz out about wiping down our immediate seating space when we board.

In other words, now more than ever, it’s critical to disinfect these tray tables for our kids.

Think about it—once your kids are comfortable in their seat, what DON’T they do on their tray tables? Mine use the seatback tables to color, read books, make paper chains, and as a flat surface on which to set their Kindles. At snacktime, which is basically any time they want at 35,000 feet, they eat off those damn things, too.

Reading the fine print of the report (or subsequent coverage) will make you throw up a bit in your mouth. Apparently, Travelmath sent a microbiologist to test five different airports and four different flights on two major airline carriers.

These experts performed tests on different surfaces at each airport and on each plane. The surfaces were tested for the presence of colony-forming units (CFU) that could potentially make people sick (although the presence of bacteria does not necessarily mean that those exposed to it will get sick). Then they ranked each of the test subjects by the median of the results.

Tray tables came in first with 2,155 DFU/square foot. No. 2 on the list: Drinking fountain buttons, at 1,240 CFU/square foot. Third on the list was another common spot, the overhead air vents, and came in at 285 CFU. (If you want all of the results, click through here to a really easy-to-read infographic on the Travelmath site).

If you’re eager to find some good news in all of this, consider the following: None of the samples from airports and airplanes tested positive for fecal coliforms such as E. coli.

Translation: We likely will get germs, but it’s not very likely we’ll get those germs that could kill us.

(There are more juicy tidbits of information in the study, but these are the only ones relevant to the argument here.)

So how do we minimize exposure? We can avoid the brunt of the problems associated with these germs by being super-diligent about disinfecting our areas when we sit down. Bring extra baby wipes or a small spray bottle of bleach solution to wipe down the tray table, seatbelt, and armrests. Another option is to make sure your kids use hand sanitizer repeatedly throughout the flight. If you’re feeling really crazy, you could have your kids wear rubber gloves. (Yes, this last suggestion is VERY Michael Jackson.)

Germs are an inevitability when you travel by plane—especially when you’re traveling with little hands that like to touch everything. Still, moms and dads have plenty options to keep exposure to these sickness-inducing particles to a minimum. Good luck!

Keeping kids healthy on Spring Break vacation

This led to some serious hand-washing.

This led to some serious hand-washing.

In most parts of the country, Spring Break starts up next week. That means tens of thousands of families will be jetting off to faraway places for vacation. With flu season still upon us, it also means families need to be extra-specially careful to make sure youngsters don’t get sick. As part of an ongoing partnership with Bundoo, I recently chatted about this subject with Dr. Sara Connolly, a Bundoo expert and board-certified pediatrician at Pediatric Partners in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Here are some of Connolly’s most important tips.

It’s not too late to vaccinate. It might be March, but Connolly said kids still can get flu vaccines. “Even though we’re at the tail end of flu season, we’re still seeing flu cases all over the country,” she said. “Considering a flu will sideline the whole family, if you haven’t gotten one yet, why risk it?”

Lots of hand washing. “When you’re sitting in the airport—or on the airplane, for that matter—your child has a knack for finding the dirtiest and grimiest spots,” joked Connolly. By washing hands regularly, however, your little one can make sure the germs he or she picks up don’t have the chance to wreak havoc. Connolly suggested carrying alcohol-free hand sanitizer as well—this comes in handy when you can’t find a sink and it’s not toxic if your littlest one manages to ingest it.

Baby in a bubble. Speaking of the littlest ones, Connolly added that it’s best to keep babies as far as possible from other travelers. Her advice: A sign in the stroller, that reads (something like): MY LITTLE BODY IS TOO SMALL FOR YOUR BIG GERMS; PLEASE DON’T TOUCH. If push comes to shove (literally), she suggested talking down strangers firmly. “You’re the parent,” she noted. “You should have no problem telling people, ‘Babies are adorable but please don’t touch them.’”

Stick to the routine. When families travel, we tend to get out of our routines. We keep the kids up for the 10 p.m. fireworks display at Disneyland. We eat lots of chicken fingers and French fries. Connolly said that while some families see these routine-busters as inevitable, the changes could compromise developing immune systems. “The younger your kids are, the more you should stick to your patterns from home,” she warned. “Even if it seems weird eating at 5:30 p.m. on vacation, doing that will keep their bodies operating normally.”

Fight bugs. Bugs are notorious germ carriers, which means it’s important to put your kids in the best position to avoid bug bites on the road. Connolly’s advice? Lots and lots of bug spray. For older kids, she suggested applying spray at least two or three times a day, and at least once after sundown. For babies, she recommended spraying the outside of the stroller—obviously, when your child is NOT inside. “Anything to keep the bugs away will help,” she said.

Sunscreen. Nothing ruins the mojo of a family trip like a nasty sunburn. To avoid this, Connolly suggested liberal application of sunscreen on everyone in the family, multiple times a day. She noted that sunscreen now is available in stick, spray, cream, lotion. For younger babies, there even are wipes that contain lotion. “The smaller the child is, the easier it is to get them protected,” Connolly said. She added that in addition to good sunscreen, parents should have kids wear sun-protective clothing to minimize the effects of the sun.

Before wrapping up our conversation, I asked Connolly how much of a difference we doting parents can make by wiping down the seat area on an airplane. Her response: In a nutshell, not much. “It certainly makes us feel better, but the reality is that virus particles that have been sneezed or coughed out onto the tray table or armrest likely are still alive and might get you sick,” she said. For parents who insist on doing the wipe-down (FWIW, that would be Powerwoman and me), Connolly noted that baby wipes always are the best approach, and that you do NOT want to use bleach wipes (lest one of your seatmates have an allergy). She also said that airplane bathrooms are the dirtiest places on the entire plane, and that wiping down those surfaces before you use them with your child always is a good idea. Another option that receives Connolly’s endorsement: PottyCover. Check ’em out.

What are your tips for keeping the kids healthy during travel for Spring Break?

Staving off Germs on Public Transport with Kids

This is the filth on a good day.

This is the filth on a good day.

They might as well name a garbage/rubbish incinerator after us Villanos before we clear out of London at the end of this year. How else would the locals commemorate (or, um, publicly shame) the inordinate number of wipes we have been using every time we take the Tube?

No exaggeration: On most trips we break into double-digits. The reason: Bannisters.

You see, L has a tendency to tell stories wherever she goes. And when she’s telling stories, she’s not exactly paying attention to where she’s going. Over the course of her life, the child has fallen down more flights of stairs than just about any of us can imagine. So in an effort to keep her from tumbling down staircases in the Tube (many of which have about 200 stairs), we’ve implored her to use the bannister.

The good news is that she has listened (and has not fallen…yet). The bad news is that the bannisters here in London’s subway system are some of the filthiest surfaces 0n earth.

Every single time we take the subway, the kid’s hand turns sooty black in a matter of seconds. This past weekend, while simply heading down from street level to the ticket booths at our local stop, the situation got so bad it looked like she had wiped her hands in tar. Or coal dust. Or sludge.

When this sort of thing happens, my gut reaction is to ignore it until she realizes she is the one who controls how dirty things get. Then my neuroses kick in. What if she puts that filth in her mouth or wipes it on her face? What if it leads to some obscure strain of sores? What if the sores spread all over her body?

I’m not Donald Trump when it comes to germs, but I have been known to spaz a bit on the subject. And what we’re calling “Tube Hands” syndrome has triggered a few sweat-through-your-shirt moments (for me), which is why we’ve been overusing those wipes.

Lest you think I hate the environment, we’ve tried more eco-friendly methods such as hand sanitizer and Witch Hazel. Quite frankly, these don’t remove the black.

We also have tried the old-fashioned strategy of negotiating with L to wash her hands more frequently, but if you’ve ever dealt with a 4-year-old, you understand that we’re lucky if the kid actually washes her hands after she pees.

We even have proposed that L wears gloves when we ride the Tube, though L seems adamantly opposed to that approach. (In many ways, this is a blessing; when coupled with my staunch “no face photos” philosophy, the notion of forcing gloves on the kids really would make me feel like Michael Jackson.)

And so, until something better comes along, wipes are our way to go. I apologize in advance to the British government for contributing to the garbage problem. The VINCINERATOR has a nice ring.

How do you keep your kids’ hands clean on public transportation during family trips?