Airport Security Trays Harbor More Viruses Than Toilets: Study

Airport trays dirtier than toilets
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Researchers have revealed what carries the highest level of pathogens in the airport, and it is not found in the bathroom.

In a new study, Niina Ikonen, from the the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, and colleagues found that the plastic trays used at airport security checkpoints harbor the highest level of viruses at airports.

The researchers swabbed a variety of surfaces at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport in the winter of 2016 to identify and quantify the viruses that linger at the frequently-touched surfaces.

They found viruses on 10 percent of the tested surfaces, which include the passport-checking counters, children’s play areas, payment terminals, and staircase rails.

Ikonen and colleagues, however, discovered that the viruses were most commonly present on the plastic trays circulated among passengers at the hand luggage X-ray checkpoint.

“Of the surfaces tested, plastic security screening trays appeared to pose the highest potential risk, and handling these is almost inevitable for all embarking passengers,” Ikonen and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases on Aug. 29.

The most common virus that the researchers found was the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. They also picked up influenza A virus. Interestingly, they found no respiratory viruses on the toilet surfaces.

The results of the study did not prove that the viruses on the air and surfaces of the airport are alive and can cause diseases, but earlier studies have shown that there are a number of microbes that can survive on surface materials for days.

Trays at the Airport Security
  Tim Boyle / Getty Images

The researchers hope that their findings can spread more awareness on how viruses spread, particularly in crowded places such as airports.

“The new findings support preparedness planning for controlling the spread of serious infectious diseases in airports,” Ikonen said in a statement released by the University of Nottingham. “The results also provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment.”

The researchers said that proper hygiene is important for controlling contagious infections. They said that people can reduce the risk for contagion by properly washing their hands, and coughing into their handkerchief or sleeve at all times, particularly in public places.

Study researcher Jonathan Van Tam, from the University of Nottingham, said that these precautions can help prevent pandemics. These simple hygienic practices are particularly important in crowded areas that serve as hub for large number of people traveling to and from different parts of the world.