The Grapevine

Airports Security Process Exposes You To More Viruses Than Toilet Surfaces: Study

Of course, the experience of flying can be exciting at times. But this mode of travel could also mean fumbling around with your luggage, handling documents, waiting in long queues, and being exposed to a ton of germs as you multi-task at the airport. 

Here's a question: In which parts of the airport do you think you are most likely to come into contact with viruses? British and Finnish researchers examined various surfaces of the Helsinki Airport in Finland to find out.

The study titled "Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports" was published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases on Aug. 29.

The team swabbed close to a hundred surfaces which travelers are typically exposed to. These included trolley handles, the passport checking area, escalator handrails, elevator buttons, toilet surfaces, armrests of chairs, and more.

Turns out, the airport security trays harbored more viruses than any other surface. Staircase rails, airport shops, passport-checking counters, and play areas for children were also found to contain notable concentrations, the findings revealed.

Knowing this may help with improvements in airport design and refurbishment, according to first author Niina Ikonen from the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland. For example, airports could consider offering sanitizers or hand rubs to travelers before and after security screening, the virology expert suggested

If you were expecting to see toilet surfaces emerge as the clear winner, you will be surprised to hear they were ranked relatively low in terms of contamination. In fact, no respiratory viruses were detected on the toilet bowl lid, flushing buttons, door locks, etc.

But the researchers said this was expected since people are more likely to practice healthy hygiene habits in public toilets i.e. precautions like washing your hands (something you can improve with the right technique, by the way) and limiting how many surfaces you touch. Toilets are also subject to routine cleaning, unlike say, the security trays or toys from the play areas.

The rhinovirus (responsible for the common cold) was the most prevalent, found in 40 percent of the contaminated surfaces. According to Gizmodo, the rest of the list included coronavirus (30 percent), adenovirus (20 percent), and influenza A (10 percent). 

"This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread," said co-author Jonathan Van Tam, a professor of health protection at the Nottingham University School of Medicine. "People can help to minimize contagion by hygienic hand washing and coughing into a handkerchief, tissue or sleeve at all times but especially in public places. 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."