Plastic Trays in Airport Security Loaded with Respiratory Viruses

The highest levels of respiratory viruses at airports are on the plastic trays used at security checkpoints, a new study finds.

Researchers took samples from a variety of of surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the winter of 2016 and found evidence of respiratory viruses on 10 percent of the surfaces.

The highest virus levels were found on plastic trays used at the hand luggage X-ray checkpoint, but viruses were also detected on shop payment terminals, staircase rails, passport checking counters, children's play areas and in the air.

No respiratory viruses were found on toilet surfaces, according to the study published Sept. 4 in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

"This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread. 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 travelling to and from many different parts of the world," said study author Jonathan Van Tam, a professor of health protection at the University of Nottingham, in the U.K.

"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," study author Niina Ikonen, a virology expert at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, said in a Nottingham news release.

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