This Commonly Used Item Has More Germs Than a Toilet

A new study reveals that airport security plastic trays are carrying tons of bacteria.

The next time you're placing your phone, laptop, and bag into the airport security tray you might want to have some hand sanitizer on standby. The plastic trays are touched by millions of passengers around the globe and have been found to carry a variety of germs, especially the ones responsible for the common cold. 

In the winter of 2016, scientists swabbed frequently touched places during and after peak hours at the Helsinki Airport in Finland. The findings revealed traces of rhinovirus, which is the source of the common cold and influenza A virus, were found on half the security trays, more than any of the surfaces tested. None of these viruses were found on toilet seats in the airport. The study suggests that airports could provide hand sanitization opportunities where intense, repeat touching of surfaces take place and could clean the trays and other frequently touches surfaces more regularly. Jonathan Van Tram, a Professor of Health Protection, tells New York Times, "This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread." The European Union has funded a research project called Pandhup, which works on preventing the spread of "high-threat" pathogens through public transportation. 


The public should follow preventative measures and all airports should promptly instill hygiene protocols to reduce the risk of contamination. Van Tram concludes, "These simple precautions that can help prevent pandemics 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." Further studies on the presence of microbes in the airport could eventually lead to technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment. 

Recently, passengers on an Emirates flight from Dubai to JFK were quarantined due to an outbreak of influenza. The Emirates Airbus A380 was met by the Centers for Disease Control and Port Authority police because several passengers on board had reported feeling sick during the course of the 13-hour flight. After interviews and inspections, 10 crew members and passengers were transported to a Jamaica Hospital in Queens and nine others showed symptoms but refused medical treatment. Passenger Erin Sikes tells CBS New York, "There were people that were obviously very sick that should not have been allowed to get on board in the first place." Some point to a particularly aggressive strain of the virus ravaging Mecca, where some of the passengers had recently spent time. This outbreak shows how quickly germs spread while held in a plane. Airplane trays and overhead air vents are also among the most germ-filled surfaces. It's safe to say that all passengers should wash their hands as much as possible or use hand sanitizer. Germs are unavoidable, but the spread can be reduced if people make an effort to sanitize. 

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