You may want to pack a TSA-approved travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer on your next trip through airport security, and then shower in it as soon as you’re through the line.
A new study found that those plastic trays where the TSA makes you stash your stuff before it gets X-rayed have more germs than airport toilets. The study was carried out by a team of experts at the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, who swabbed a variety of surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the winter of 2016 and found evidence of viruses on 10% of the surfaces tested. (And having been at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, I can tell you it appears cleaner than, say, the food court at JFK, or really anywhere at JFK.)
The most common virus found in the study was rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. The flu virus was also present. The highest concentration of viruses on the security check were found on plastic trays. Other virus hot spots included the payment terminals at airport shops, staircase railings, passport check counters, children’s play areas, and, you know, just floating around in the air waiting to ruin your vacation. Toilets were surprisingly low on the list, probably because people don’t tend to touch them and they are typically cleaned more frequently than the shop’s credit card machine.
The investigation was published in BMC Infectious Diseases, and in case your subscription has lapsed, it concludes that the most likely culprit for the spread of viruses is disgusting people with their disgusting habits. Specifically, people who do not wash their hands well enough and don’t bother covering up their coughs.
The study notes that “hand washing and coughing hygiene are crucial to the control of contagious infections in public areas with high volumes of people passing through,” but that is apparently too much for some people.