Airport Security Trays Carry More Germs Than Public Toilets

“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items.”


A new study has revealed the most germ-filled spot in an airport – and no, it’s not the crowded waiting areas or the passport checking counter or even the bathrooms, as many would think.

A team of experts from the United Kingdom's University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare found the plastic trays used at airport checkpoints around the world and touched by millions of passengers, are the biggest culprit for spreading germs in airports.

The study, called “Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports,” was based on 90 surface samples and four air samples collected by the scientists at Helsinki Airport in Finland during and after peak hours in the winter of 2016.

The samples were collected from different points along the passengers’ journey, from trolley handles to handrails on escalators to lift buttons and restrooms.

Surprisingly, of all the samples tested, security trays were found to be harboring the highest potential risk of viral contamination. The respiratory viruses detected on the trays included deno, influenza A, rhinovirus – the cause of the common cold– and human corona OC43.

“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items," the scientists wrote. "These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers, and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip."

A professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. William Schaffner, explained how it was easy for trays in particular to pick up germs.

"A passenger has a virus and they breathe down into them they can deposit a little bit of virus along with their shoes and luggage into the bin,” he said.

Comparatively, none of the samples taken from the public toilets – the toilet bowl lid, the flush and the lock – contained any detectable respiratory viruses.

The study stated since the trays are virtually used by all the passengers, “they have the potential to be especially problematic if a severe pathogen with an indirect transmission mechanism were to pose a threat for international spread.”

Though the researchers said the findings of the study didn’t prove the viruses found can always cause diseases, they gave out a series of recommendations to prevent such instances.

“The risk of this procedure could be reduced by offering hand sanitization with alcohol hand rub before and after security screening, and increasing the frequency of tray disinfection,” it said. “To our knowledge, security trays are not routinely disinfected.

“Although this would not eliminate all viruses on hands, (e.g. alcohol gels have been found to be less effective than hand-washing for rhinovirus), it is effective for many viruses, including influenza,” they added.

The big concern that comes out of this study is how airports are conducive to the spread of disease. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone who is going to touch the tray will catch some infectious disease.

Apart from other important measures, the airports, to start with, can make sure to routinely disinfect the trays. For the passengers, their best bet is to keep a trusty hand sanitizer with them at all times.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

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