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Health officials describe how can avoid germs and illness while traveling

(Travelers going through the security checkpoint at Salt Lake International. Credit: Paul Nelson, file)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a growing list of places that they recommend people to avoid travel to because of the Coronavirus.  The harshest warnings are for China and South Korea.  Iran, Italy and Japan are just a bit lower on that list.

Are Utahns worried about getting sick while they travel?  What do health officials recommend?

As you go through Salt Lake International, you’ll likely see people doing anything they can to keep from catching cooties from anyone else.  Face masks, bottles of Purell… whatever it takes to keep germs at bay.

We asked travelers at the airport to think about what they touched within the last hour.  One man says, “The seat is the closest thing that I would get.  I try to touch nothing.”  Others say they touched things like ticket counters, sinks, garbage lids, handrails, computers and doorknobs.  Several say they touched as little as possible, but quite a few say they couldn’t remember what they had touched.

One woman tells KSL, “Even when I do touch stuff, I go straight to the bathroom and wash my hands.  I used to work in a restaurant, so, I’m always washing my hands after I touch stuff.”

Is it common for viruses to spread more quickly on airplanes since the air is recycled?  Not really.  The World Health Organization says air quality is carefully controlled, and they change the air roughly 20 to 30 times per hour.  They also say, “there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft.”

Salt Lake County International Travel Clinic Manager Holly Berich says, “The people who are most likely to infect you are the people in your row or maybe one or two rows ahead or one or two rows behind you.”

However, she says the person most likely to infect you is yourself.  Why?  How often do you touch your face?

One traveler says, “Probably more than I should, subconsciously.  I just think you do it without knowing it.”

Berich says the best way to stay healthy while traveling is to properly wash your hands, which she says many people aren’t doing.  She has studied how well people wash their hands after they use the bathroom and too many people aren’t taking enough time to cover their hands completely.

She also says there are many more things that can make a traveler ill, besides an airborne virus.  There are foodborne illnesses and diseases transmitted by insects.  So, she urges people to see a specialist before they travel.

“If they’re traveling, we do recommend, even if they don’t come here, that they do go see a travel clinic specialist,” Berich says.