It’s not the toilet seats, flush handles, or even the floors. Nope, it is security trays that carry the most viruses at airports.
Pandemic experts in Finland checked out Helsinki Airport for viruses. They scanned surfaces including staircase rails, restrooms, passport counters, children’s play areas, credit card terminals, and security checkpoints.
The result? Security bins/trays to process carry-on baggage for screening proved the most contaminated. Swabs picked up the influenza A virus as well as rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. Meanwhile, no viruses were found on toilet seats.
Speaking personally, this study represents an opportunity to educate the public on how viruses are spread.
For doctors and other health professionals, I understand this story is a big duh. Viruses tend to cluster around what humans touch. Humans handle security trays all day and it is unlikely these are cleaned often, compared to toilet seats or floors which are are cleaned at least once per day and often many times.
But this is a helpful reminder to wash your hands offer…what we’ve been taught all our lives.
Niina Ikonen, a virology expert at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, told the UK Guardian:
The presence of microbes in the environment of an airport has not been investigated previously. The new findings support preparedness planning for controlling the spread of serious infectious diseases in airports. The results also provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment.
I’m not sure airports need re-design or refurbishment, but security bins should be cleaned at least once per day.
I am decidedly not a germaphobe, but it is no surprise I encounter colds each year during flu season considering how much I travel. While I cannot picture myself swabbing down my tray with disinfectant wipes, I will start placing all personal items inside my bag rather than in those little round trays that are usually available in TSA PreCheck lines. If that leads to one less cold this winter, I’ll have come out ahead.