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We all know the story of a certain pregnant couple turned away from a crowded inn and forced to spend an eventful night in a manger. But that may have been for the best given new evidence that hotel rooms are hotbeds of unholy contamination. Here's what to know for a safer holiday travel season.
Sooner or later, we all end up in a hotel, and at no time of year is that truism truer than the holiday season, when visits to distant relations frequently require lodging. The rooms we rent may claim to offer all the comforts of home, but researchers have uncovered a filthy secret: They're often hardly clean.
Budget motel or high-end hotel, it doesn't matter. Swabs of all kinds of surfaces in all types of rooms found all sorts of unhealthy bacteria. The dirtiest spots were the bedspreads, bathroom faucets, and the TV remote control. Some 70% of all remotes, for example, had high levels of contamination, and nearly a third of all faucets failed the sanitation test.
Yet these were hardly the only places keeping epidemiologists up at night. Blankets, telephones, light switches, sinks, and toilets also tested like overgrown petri dishes. The U.S. tests found (shield your eyes) the dreaded fecal bacteria on 81% of tested surfaces, and the biggest trouble appeared on the maids' mops and sponges, which suggests cleaning is spreading germs not removing them.
Bacteria, of course, are common in our homes, but those bacteria are usually familiar—they come largely from us, not zillions of nameless strangers carrying who-knows-what. Here's what we can do to stay healthy on the road:
- First, inspect your room for obvious issues—dirt, mold, signs of insects, etc. If you find any, get a new room
- Pay careful attention to baseboards and mattress creases where it's easiest to spot bedbug wastes (small brown or red dots), skin, and shells.
- Don't use the bedspread. Take it off and put it away.
- Travel with disinfecting wipes or a spray and treat light switches, remotes, phones, door knobs, faucets, and toilets before use.
- Place your toiletries on a clean towel not directly on bathroom counters.
- Clean water glasses yourself before use. (Ditto the ice bucket.) Or bring your own cup.
- Consider packing a pillow and even a sheet to cover a chair.
- Avoid complimentary coffee-makers, especially if they're by a sink.
- Place your suitcase on the luggage rack not the bed or floor.
- If you're traveling with babies or toddlers, check under the bed and in all the drawers for potential hazards.
- Don't walk around in your bare feet.
These strategies will help give you the best holiday gift any of us could possible get: A happily healthy new year!