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What you’re exposed to when you take off your shoes at the airport

Laptops out, pockets emptied and shoes off. Any regular traveller to the USA, in particular, knows the drill (and probably stench) of mass shoe removal at airport security. 



But as you shuffle in your socks or (worse) go barefoot through airport security you’re at risk of exposure to some particularly nasty things, TPG reported.  




It just takes skin contact with something that’s been infected by a person with a fungus for you to end up with a function too. Something like a carpet or damp floor. Fungal spores can apparently survive on surfaces with frequent foot traffic long enough to infect others.


“In a high-traffic area, the number of people per hour going through a checkpoint is greater at an airport than at a health club,” Dr Michael J. Trepal, vice president for academic affairs and dean at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine told TPG. 


“And, theoretically, the more you expose the skin to exogenous pathogens, the more likely you are to be infected. In some cases, you could realistically walk 30 to 40 feet [without shoes].”




There’s nothing sexier than plantar warts - especially on your feet. A strain of human papilloma virus spread through cuts and breaks in the skin, these warts can be painful or irritating. And when there’s a long line of strangers walking through the same patch of ground, the airport floor  can be like an HPV reunion party.  




Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is as catchy as it sounds. Otherwise known as MRSA, this resistant-to-antibiotics superbug can be picked up by folk with open wounds on their feet or who have compromised immune systems.


And MRSA’s not the only foot-related bacteria to be worried about at airport security.


“Theoretically, you could pick up a wide variety of bacteria under the skin,” Trepal said. 


“If you had a break in the skin, one of them could gain entry and set off an infection. And a skin infection of the foot could become a systemic infection, too.”


While Trepal emphasised that it’s not really clear yet how easily an airport security checkpoint lends itself to transmitting diseases, he suggested taking precautions isn’t going to hurt.


“You’re probably at a bigger risk of contracting something on your hands, because you’re touching stair rails, escalator rails and countertops at the airport for much longer than your feet are walking through security,” he said.


“It just goes to good bodily hygiene, like washing your hands,” he said. 


“Try to minimize barefoot contact with foreign surfaces, and try to wear socks [inside your shoes] if you want an extra level of precaution.”


Written by: Gaya Avery
Published: 12 June 2018

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