We are the Germiest Place in the World

One of my least favorite types of popular infectious disease news story has to deal with variations on the question of "what is the germiest (fill in the blank)?" The latest version of this question has people swabbing airplane surfaces and, not too surprisingly, the tray table was found to harbor the most bacteria.

What studies like these overlook are a lot of important points such as:

  • We live in a bacteria-laden world and we ourselves are teeming with bacteria
  • There is a distinction to be drawn between potentially harmful bacteria and the much more numerous harmless bacteria in the environment (in fact the actual study points out that no fecal coliforms were noted)
  • How "germy" a place really doesn't have much of an impact unless you're dragging a open wound (or the equivalent) through it -- this has a minimal to zero health impact

That tray tables--the place where people rest their hands, their utensils, their napkins, and deposit their sneezes and coughs--have a lot of bacteria is, somewhat paradoxically, the result of the fact that that are of the plane is the one with the most contact with...us.