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Airport security home to queues - and viruses

06 September 2018 08:17

Security trays at airports harbour the highest number of viruses

Security trays at airports harbour the highest number of viruses

Plastic trays at security desks harbour the highest numbers of viruses at airports, new research has discovered.

Holidaymakers heading abroad this autumn might be surprised to know that pandemic experts found evidence of viruses on 10% of the airport surfaces they tested.

Viruses were found at checkouts, staircase rails and passport checking counters in the terminal, but the highest number was discovered in the plastic trays at security checkpoints.


The various surfaces were swabbed at Helsinki-Vantaa airport at peak-time as part of a scientific investigation carried out by experts from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare during the winter of 2016.

The research found viruses were most commonly found on the plastic trays that are circulated along the passenger queue at the hand luggage X-ray checkpoint.

Experts concluded that hand washing and careful coughing hygiene are crucial to the control of contagious infections in public areas with high volumes of people passing through.

The University of Nottingham said the most common virus found in the survey was rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, while the swabs also picked up the influenza A virus.

No respiratory viruses were found on toilet surfaces.

Public awareness

Professor of Health Protection Jonathan Van Tam, from the University's School of Medicine, said: "This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread.

"People can help to minimise 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."

Virology expert Niina Ikonen from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare said: "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."

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