Surprise: This is the Most Contaminated Spot in an Airport You Can’t Avoid

Most people are super leery of using public bathrooms, especially those visited by thousands of people daily, like those we find in major airports. I don’t know about you, but I always use a liner on the toilet seat, or if none are available, I use the “hover method.” Additionally, I am very careful not to touch anything with my hands once I wash them. When flying, I don’t think about airport germs too much apart from the bathroom. What about you? 

Researchers reveal the shocking truth about airport germs

I was shocked when I found out the results from a new study on airport germs. The study was a joint effort between the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.  Researchers swabbed several surfaces that were most often used by passengers at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland.

Where the germs hide

Researchers discovered that there was at least one respiratory virus present on 10 percent of all swabbed surfaces. Microbes that can cause sickness include plastic security bins, card readers in stores, passport checking counters, staircase rails, and children’s play areas. Even 25% of the air samples analyzed contained illness-causing bugs.

The most contaminated space is one you can’t avoid

Rhinovirus, the cause of the common cold, was found on forty percent of surfaces that were contaminated with at least one virus.

Unfortunately, the most common place where rhinovirus was found is also the most unavoidable – drum roll please…The plastic trays where shoes, electronics, and other items are deposited at security checkpoints. Yikes!!

Everyone’s stuff just gets thrown in these bins, one after the other. There is no disinfection process in between, and no real standardized cleaning process for the bins either. Microbes are robust and can stay alive on many surfaces for some time – some for several days.

Satesh Bidaisee, DVM, EdD, professor of public health and preventative medicine and assistant dean for graduate studies at St. George’s University in Grenada had this to say,

“Airports should improve indoor air quality management and practice more frequent disinfection of the surfaces identified in the study.”

Surprisingly, researchers found that most bathroom samples did not contain viruses. This could be because most people pay close attention to hand washing when using a public bathroom for fear of germs.

Dangerous Coronovirus also detected

Coronavirus, a dangerous microbe, was found on 30 percent of the surfaces that were contaminated by a virus. While this virus can cause mild to moderate upper respiratory infections such as the common cold, it can also cause pneumonia, especially in the eldery or people who have heart and lung conditions.

How to protect yourself

Although we can’t avoid security checks at airports, we can do a few things to help bolster our immune system. Staying hydrated and avoiding fatigue are a couple of ways to keep your immune function strong. Wash hands after contacting frequently touched surfaces, always cover your nose and mouth when sneezing, and avoid getting too close to people who are sick. Eating a well-balanced diet and taking a high-quality probiotic can also help your body stay strong.

According to Nina Ikonen, virology expert from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare,

“The presence of microbes in the environment of an airport hasn’t 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 improvement in airport design and refurbishment.”

The good news

The good news is that study officials don’t think that airports are likely to start a flu epidemic. Yes, there are plenty of germs present, but you are more likely to pick up something nasty at home or school where you are in contact with surfaces for longer. Still, it is a good idea to take precautions and be sure that you are in good health when you travel!

-Susan Patterson

Recommended Articles