It turns out that missing your flight isn’t the only thing you should be worried about while waiting in line at airport security. According to a recent report by The Points Guy, the number of germs you’re exposing your feet to when you take your shoes off is enough to make your toes, well… curl.
You might have noticed that a lot of people go through airport security sockless, which, as you can probably imagine, isn’t exactly sanitary. So if you walk sockless in somebody’s disease-carrying footsteps, you’re likely to catch whatever they have.
According to The Points Guy, the most likely suspect is a fungal infection, specifically tinea pedis, a.k.a. athlete’s foot. It’s estimated that one in every five Americans suffers from athlete’s foot at this very moment. The reason? It’s really easy to catch, requiring only skin contact with an object that’s been infected by another person with the fungus—like a dirty airport floor.
“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 The Points Guy.
If that’s not enough to make you buy socks in bulk, there are also viruses—specifically the strains of the human papilloma virus that cause plantar warts—lurking on those heavily polished tiles.
And then there’s the really scary stuff. People with compromised immune systems or with open cuts on their feet could be vulnerable to some seriously spine-chilling stuff. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA (pronounced “mersa”) is of the greatest concern. It’s a kind of staph infection that’s resistant to antibiotics, and it’s becoming increasingly more common.
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With all that said, a scientific study of disease transmission at airport security hasn’t been published since 2003, so it’s a little murky how dangerous traipsing through that metal detector sans socks really is.
“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,” Trepal told The Points Guy.
As for your best defense against germs lurking on airport floors? Trepal has a simple suggestion: wear socks.