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TRAVELING WITH ONE CARRY-ON AND A TRILLION MICROSCOPIC SEAT MATES

 

By Anne Madden, PhD research microbiologist who conducts investigations on the microorganisms that live in our environment and is a contributing author for SterilStay. 

 

Traveling by plane allows us to do so much more than move from point A to point B. Traveling lets us share. It lets us share experiences as we travel for our children’s soccer games, or our friend’s wedding. It lets us share ideas as we travel for work to meet with clients and colleagues. It even lets us share joy as we fondly discuss memories of a past honeymoon or family vacation.But traveling also lets us share things we’d rather not, namely, germs.The world is covered in ‘germs.’

 

Germs—microscopic organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses—cover every surface we touch, from our walls and carpets, to ourselves. There are roughly 64 million bacterial cells on each square inch of skin. While we are all covered in a mass of these creatures, most of them are harmless, and many are even necessary for our survival. Microorganisms in soil, for instance, allow plants to grow and they even produce some of the very antibiotics we rely on. Others help make our favorite foods possible (wine, chocolate, cheese), and still others help us digest food.

 

But while most of the microscopic life on earth is friendly, or at least worthy of being ignored, a few of these microorganisms make us sick. When these microorganisms gain access to our body, they cause infections as our immune system struggles to fight them off. And the costs of these infections are high. 

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