If you had to guess which part of an airport was the absolute "germiest," what would you say? The toilet, perhaps? Or maybe the grimy doorknob out front? Or how about those staircase rails? As it turns out, the unhealthiest spot in the airport may actually be in the security section, according to new research.
An August 2018 study published in BMC Infectious Diseases found that plastic security trays harbor the highest levels of viruses in airports. Yes, we’re talking about those trays that carry your purse, wallet, and shoes along the passenger line to go through the X-ray machine.
Researchers swabbed various surfaces at Helsinki Airport in Finland at peak time during the winter of 2016. These surfaces included shop payment terminals, staircase rails, passport-checking counters, children’s play areas, and those infamous security trays.
While experts found evidence of viruses on 10 percent of airport surfaces overall, they were most commonly found on the plastic trays. The most abundant virus seen was rhinovirus, which is known for causing the common cold. However, researchers also spotted other icky germs like the influenza A virus. Shockingly enough, they reported finding no sign of respiratory viruses on toilet surfaces.
“This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread,” Jonathan Van Tam said in an interview with The Guardian. “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.”
Of course, it’s always a good idea to practice excellent hygiene while using any type of public transportation. You never know what kind of illness the traveler next to you might be carrying — even if he or she appears to be totally well. But the next time you go to the airport, you might especially consider washing your hands right after going through security. You’d hate for your own shoes to get you sick!