Researchers conducting a study on the public health risks of pathogen spread through public transportation recently released findings of an unlikely source of germs at the airport. They discovered that nearly half of plastic trays used at airport security hubs contained more traces of cold and flu viruses than bathroom surfaces did.
Most passengers who fly during cold and flu season know to wash their hands frequently and to stock up on hand sanitizer and immunity-boosting supplements. But researchers from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare are warning travelers about a surprising, and somewhat unavoidable, source of pathogens: plastic security trays.
In a recently published study funded by Pandhub, a European Union-sponsored initiative to combat the spread of “high-risk” pathogens via public transportation, the scientists reported that they found traces of rhinovirus and the influenza A virus on nearly half of the security trays swabbed at Helsinki Airport (HEL) during peak travel in the winter of 2016. In contrast, none of these viruses were found on bathroom toilet surfaces.
Pandemic spread is of particular concern in travel hubs such as airports, since the number of travelers and frequency of flights makes the spread of a virus particularly difficult to contain.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who studies health protection at the University of Nottingham, told the New York Times that passengers can do their part to minimize the spread of pathogens by frequently washing their hands and coughing or sneezing into handkerchiefs or tissues while traveling. “These simple precautions can help prevent pandemics and are most important in crowded areas like airports that have a high volume of people traveling to and from many different parts of the world,” he says.
In short, passengers would do well to go straight to a sink rather than to their gates after they pass through airport security.