Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More germs: Planes, desks, and even kisses

Airplanes are so permeated with bacteria that it is truly a wonder that anyone survives a flight. I'll bet you thought it was the air in the cabin, but a recent story in USA Today says otherwise. "The real problems lie on the chair upholstery, the tray table, the armrests and the toilet handle."

What should germophobic passengers do? "First, they should travel with and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. They should also travel with a small pack of disinfectant wipes," said the microbiologist who did the study. "The first thing I do when I sit down is to wipe down the armrest and tray table because that's where my arms will be. You need to decontaminate where you'll be spending your time and eating."

From MailOnline: "Millions of us spend our days slaving over a keyboard. But lurking between the keys, hidden on the mouse and nestled in your phone lies [sic] more than 10 million bacteria—400 times more than on the average toilet seat." [Despite what I reported in my last post, the toilet seat will remain the gold standard for comparing contamination levels until it is unseated.]

At least that is way fewer bacteria than the next study found.

"Every Kiss Begins With 80 Million Germs" headlines WebMD about a paper published in the journal Microbiome. WebMD story says, "In one experiment, the researchers gave 21 couples a probiotic drink containing bacteria before they kissed. Swab samples afterwards showed the transfer of those 80 million germs."

From the methods section of the paper: "One of the partners was invited to consume 50 ml of a probiotic yogurt drink containing L. rhamnosus GG, L. acidophilus LA5, and B. lactis BB12 [all non-pathogens]. After 10 seconds, saliva and tongue swabs were collected from this partner (donator) and after a second intimate ["full tongue contact and saliva exchange"] kiss of 10 seconds, saliva and tongue swabs were directly collected from the other partner (receiver)."

Saliva has some antibacterial properties. Maybe the researchers didn't wait long enough to test for bacteria after one of the partners drank the yogurt? People who have 80 million pathogenic bacteria in their mouths probably have bad breath and poor oral hygiene. I doubt they are indulging in 10 second tongue kissing.

And here's an excerpt from the conclusion. "This study indicates that a shared salivary microbiota requires a frequent and recent bacterial exchange and is most pronounced in couples with relatively high intimate kiss frequencies of at least nine intimate kisses per day [my emphasis] or in couples sampled no longer than 1.5 hours after the latest kiss."

Ten second kisses? Nine intimate kisses per day? Other than perhaps high school kids, who is kissing 9 times a day for 10 seconds at a time?

Bottom line? After eating yogurt, wait at least 90 minutes before tongue kissing someone.


JEN said...

People stare and laugh at me on planes, but I bring microbiological wipes and wipe down EVERYTHING! (Former microbiologist here).

Skeptical Scalpel said...

If it makes you happy, do it.

THEGAP said...

Phobia and wipophilia

Anonymous said...

My mother has crippling OCD so I make a point of NOT carrying around chemical towelettes to wipe everything down like a silly American who wants to live forever. It would be like someone with alcoholic parents starting to have three drinks instead of two: only a little much now, perhaps, but it could be the slippery slope to an ugly bottom. Also, I've spent enough time in "less developed nations" to know the difference between seriously infectious grub and "whaddaya know, we live in a biosphere" grub.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I worry about resistant organisms that may emerge if everyone wipes down everything.

Anonymous said...

Those people who have ten long kisses everyday probably have very good immune systems because they are so happy and content with life and they smile so much.

Libby said...

after seeing some photos of what body parts some people put on the trays I'd be tempted to wipe it down! (I doubt I'd remember to bring some wipes).

artiger said...

I would imagine they are sharing more than just oral germs. Seems healthy enough.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I suppose you are right.

davidp said...

I did get glandular fever shortly after getting married, probably from kissing my wife.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

That's interesting. Did she get sick? If not, maybe you got it somewhere else.

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