Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Syphilis, lice, gonorrhea, ringworm, chlamydia, staph, strep, noro and papilloma viruses all are part of the possible fringe benefits when airline passengers next go through a full hands-on pat-down by agents of the federal government’s Transportation Security Administration, according to doctors.
WND reported two days ago on alarmed passengers who noted that TSA agents doing the pat-downs that have been described by critics as molestation since they include touching private body parts were not changing gloves between passengers. In fact, some apparently were patting down dozens of passengers or more wearing the same gloves.
But neither the TSA nor federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control was willing to comment on the possibilities that infections and other loathsome afflictions could be passed from passenger to passenger.
Now two doctors – and several others – have confirmed that there is the definite possibility that passengers will be able to catch whatever someone in front of them in line was suffering from via the latex gloves TSA workers use.
“There is no doubt that bacteria (staph, strep, v.cholerae etc.) and viruses (noro, enteroviruses, herpes, hepatitis A and papilloma viruses) can be spread by contaminated vinyl or latex gloves,” Dr. Thomas Warner of Wisconsin told WND in a letter to the editor.
“If a traveler has diarrhea and is soiled, as can and does happen, the causative agent can be spread by this method since bacteria and viruses in moist environments have greater viability.”
He continued. “The traveler readjusting clothes can easily get the infectious agents on their hands and therefore into their mouth, nose or eyes.”
Added a pulmonary critical care physician from Connecticut who did not want to be identified by name, “That doesn’t make sense that they’re not changing gloves.”
“Anything can be transmitted. If there are open wounds and they [TSA agents] are not aware, there’s syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, lice, ringworm.”
Worse yet would be for people whose immune systems are compromised by treatments they may be having, including cancer patients, she said.
Physicians undergo extensive training, follow strict rules and even have those who watch them to make sure they follow procedures to reduce to an absolute minimum the likelihood of carrying disease from one person to another, she said.
“How come if we as doctors have guidelines, we must wear gloves and have oversight, it’s very different [for the TSA],” she said.
Warner told WND some of the infections are “a tough little beast” and easily would be spread through the contact being used by the TSA.
“Staphylococci are also tough and can be spread on fomites (eg . towels, tampons or gloves ) and survive in dry conditions. Methicillin resistant staph creates havoc in hospitals AND in those awaiting surgery (eg. traveling for a transplant ) when the ‘carrier’ patient must be clear of the bacterium before elective surgery,” he said.
“Emerging infectious and tropical agents create another wild scenario,” he said.
He said at a minimum gloves should be changed between pat-downs, “especially if the gloved hand is inside clothes or in the genital … area even if clothed. Travelers should be advised of this and hand-wash and change clothes ASAP after these intimate examinations.”
The CDC previously told WND to contact the TSA, which did not respond to inquiries, on the status of policies that would minimize the possibility of passing infections from one passenger to another.
The response today was the same, according to a WND reader who passed along his question to the CDC about the situation and the agency’s response.
In response to a question about minimizing the possibility infections could be passed along, the CDC said:
Thank you for your inquiry to CDC-INFO. In response to your comments that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents are not changing gloves between the travelers that they pat-down, we are pleased to provide you with the following information.
If you are traveling and are going to be searched, you can request that the TSA agent change his or her gloves.
There, the editorial writer noted the intimacy of the pat-downs by the TSA, procedures which are required for some travelers and offered as an option to those who refuse to go through a full-body image scanner which essentially reveals a nude image of the passenger for TSA workers to review.
“Air travel passengers across America have been complaining of the TSA fingering their genitalia and touching their sex organs. Just this week, an ABC News employee was fingered by a TSA agent who felt around inside her underwear. … This process of touching traveler’s genitals without consistently changing latex gloves means the TSA is involved in extremely risky behavior that could spread disease,” the website warned.
“TSA agents are not trained as medical personnel. Just as they don’t seem to grasp the Bill of Rights, they also may not understand how infectious disease is spread. They aren’t medical personnel; they’re Big Brother enforcers who have likely never been taught the principles of how to conduct a sterile body search,” the commentary said.
“If an athlete with jock itch (a fungal infection) undergoes a TSA pat-down, that TSA agent could spread the passenger’s jock itch from his crotch to his armpits and neck. The same is true for a person suffering from ringworm or other skin fungal infections: Merely touching them and then touching another body part can cause them to spread,” the website said. “Even worse, if that same TSA agent does not change his or her gloves between pat-downs, they could be spreading jock itch, ringworm or other infections from traveler to traveler. So traveler #2 could end up with the jock itch picked up from traveler #1.”
Martha Donahue in a commentary at Resistnet said she’d spent 30 years in the medical industry.
“For those of you who fly and opt for the ‘pat down,’ you need to demand the TSA thugs change their gloves. I’ve been watching on the news how they operate. People are being searched [with] dirty gloves … gloves that have been in crotches, armpits, touching people who may be ill, people who pick their noses. Do you want those gloves touching you?
“These thugs are protecting themselves from you. You need to be protected from them,” she wrote. “In a hospital, nursing home, in-home care, or even labs, that would never even be considered an option.”
While the CDC referred questions about health and disease issues to the TSA, in its online writings the organization repeatedly makes clear the importance of maintaining clean hands to avoid such transmission of communicable and contagious afflictions.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, at the time the chief of the CDC, said during a special presentation on hand cleanliness, “We know that hand hygiene is a critical component of safe and healthy health care.”
At the same time, Dr. John Boyce, lead author of the organization’s hand-washing guidelines and the chairman of the Hand Hygiene Task Force, said, “There’s a large study that was conducted at the University of Geneva Hospital in Switzerland where they demonstrated significant improvement in the adherence of health care workers to hand hygiene practices and they also showed that the incidence of antibiotic resistance to staph infections went down and that the overall prevalence of health care-acquired infections went down … .”
Suggested Gerberding in the context of health care, “Hand hygiene saves lives. We’re recommending a comprehensive evidence-based approach in hospitals that consists of handwashing with soap and water when the goal is to remove unsightly debris; hand alcohol preps for enhancing appearance and reducing bacterial counts; and gloving when people have contact with blood or other body fluids in accordance with universal precautions.”
She said even in a “community setting,” “washing with soap and water remains a very sensible strategy for hand hygiene.”
“You can spread certain ‘germs’ (a general term for microbes like viruses and bacteria) casually by touching another person. You can also catch germs when you touch contaminated objects or surfaces and then you touch your face (mouth, eyes, and nose),” it said.
Respondents to the comment were outraged, “That’s just plain disgusting and most certainly not acceptable … procedures as set forth by the CDC for usage of gloves for protection,” said one. “Reasoning being is that the bacteria count in your pockets is about the same is your mouth or armpit.”
Wrote another forum participant, “Those gloves are soiled if they come out of your pockets and before handling my stuff you will be expected to obtain a clean, from the original container, pair. … Who knows what filth inhabits your pockets!”