Germs hiding in unlikely places at airports

Posted at 8:26 AM, Nov 13, 2018

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Heading to the airport? Pack your worries.  Every day, billions of germs are left all over Southwest Florida International Airport.

Biology professor Cliff Renk from Florida Gulf Coast University and student Matt Glass joined us as we took a microscopic look at all the germs we encounter when we fly into and out of the airport. 

The professor swabbed all sorts of surfaces and using a monitor that counts the number of germs. A reading of 300 on the meter indicates a normal amount of bacteria.

One elevator button registered 418. The handles on those luggage carts: a nasty 532.  Escalator handles were about the same but loaded with bacteria colonies. The buttons on the ATM machine in the main concourse were home to almost 80 different colonies of bacteria. 

But that's just the beginning. If you're flying, everyone needs to go through the security checkpoint.  And the bin you place your phone in -- which you hold to your face -- might be the same one the person before it put his shoes in following a visit to the bathroom. They could carry staph, which can cause pimples, boils and in some cases flesh-eating bacteria. 

There are about 1000-1500 TSA plastic bins that we place our stuff in when we go through security. We tested the first bin and its handles; it came in came below the normal level. The second tested at more than two times higher.  

The third, well that's a different story. Even though the number was 611, Professor Renk says some stomach-churning germ colonies  - more than 300 - were lurking on board, including fecal bacteria and other bacteria generally found on the bottom of shoes. 

Reps from both the airport and the TSA tell us it's important we remember any public space is a breeding ground for germs and to bring and use hand sanitizer or wipes at all times.  Finally, they say to wash your hands frequently. 

And speaking of hands we did one last test on reporter Frank Cipolla's hands to show you what any one of us might be lugging around at any moment. He spent all morning at the airport and shook about a dozen hands. Remember, 300 is a normal reading. His right hand registered about 3000.

The TSA says it would cost too much money to put hand sanitizer dispensers in every airport in America, so a warning to all travelers. When it comes to germs at the airport, you're on your own.